Renovating for health

Transforming employee well-being

Our client, a regional health insurance company, noticed via voluntary health assessments that its employees were struggling with being overweight and its negative health effects. As a health insurance company they knew the consequences of poor lifestyle choices and decided to create an atmosphere of change in their workplace. Fortunately, the dining area was scheduled for renovation, and what started as a cosmetic upgrade became an opportunity to provide healthy dining choices and make a positive impact on employee health.



The dining area, which serves around 1,800 employees at the client’s complex, was original to the 1980s-era building and showing its age.  From an entry which blocked the view to the outside to uninspiring lighting, the first impression was lackluster. Food selection was far from healthful and included an abundance of deep-fried, fatty fare.  The dining space was broken up by permanently-placed bench seating making the 6,500sf room inflexible and unsuitable for other non-dining functions.

VOA saw an exciting opportunity to make a difference. Enthusiastic support and commitment to change from the executive side provided inspiration to our design. The company has ongoing programs for voluntary health assessments, DIY blood pressure monitoring, on-site meetings for weight loss groups, fitness rooms with exercise classes, and it encourages exercise breaks during the work day as well as the use of recently updated stairwells. To provide even more opportunities for associates to make healthy choices, it examined food preparation and service as well as possibility for added allure in the dining experience.


The footprint of the space remained the same, but everything else changed: the kitchen, servery and dining area. The new program expanded functionality of the space for multiple purposes including AV presentation capability and seating for 200. Above all, the new cafeteria and multipurpose space had to be so appealing that employees would flock to it.

At the beginning of the process employees were given the chance to participate by answering a survey about dining choices. Many of the employee desires aligned with the project goal to provide healthier options. There was also a contest to name the new dining area.  From many employee suggestions, the Blue Fit Café was the clear winner.

VOA teamed with Hopkins Food Service for food preparation and kitchen design. The client’s vendor, Aramark, was part of the process and extremely interested in the potential for healthier dining concept and its effect on their bottom line.

VOA’s design concept was to create a stimulating, light-filled, flexible, clean environment focused on healthy food. Outdoor connections to a below-grade patio were enhanced, emphasizing available daylight.

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Lighting in the dining area simulates skylights and balances the daylight outside in the courtyard. Warm, inviting, colorful and low maintenance finishes were chosen for the servery and dining area. Art was an integral part of the design; enlarged photos of healthy and delicious food surround the space, supplying a not-so-subliminal message.

Tables and chairs were chosen that met requirements for durability, mobility and flexibility and also reinforced the warm inviting message. The tables and chairs were selected for maximum flexibility. The tables are movable and feature tilt-tops that make for efficient storage. The plastic laminate table tops are durable and easy-to-clean. Scoop by Allemuir chairs were selected because they’re attractive, stackable and comfortable. The wood finish imparts a sense of warmth to the space and the bent plywood manufacturing technique is efficient and sustainable. The design team also added a bar that provides seating or acts as a display/serving counter.


VOA incorporated coordination of comprehensive AV services to create multipurpose facility that can be used throughout the day and accommodate large group functions.

The food service consultant selected energy-efficient refrigeration and stoves. In particular, high efficiency convection cook tops were installed throughout the kitchen. One fun fact: Maryland code required the installation of a massive and expensive grease trap in the facility. Ironically, there is never any grease in it because the new café never fries anything. The café is really that healthy.

Our client is now able to provide menus and detailed nutritional information online. In the servery information is displayed next to each available item showing nutritional information such as calorie count, fat and sodium content.


The BlueFit Cafe proved a hit with associates. While before-and-after health data isn’t available, participation data tells the story. Breakfast saw a 5% increase in year one, lunch 18%. Year one sales were up 18% off base, and year two sales jumped 12% off year one. And rave reviews from associates:

“The changes which have been made are tremendous! I benefit from the online information, for I no longer work in the OM1 building. It is worth going out in the cold, snow or rain to purchase your delicious food – choices are easier with the dietary guidelines displayed. Thank you very much!”

Photos by Alain Jaramillo

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