The Meal Plan: How Savvy Administrators Make Strategic Derisions about the Whore Campus Dining Experience-Because Meal Planning Isn't Just about the Food

By Williams, Lauren | University Business, September 2013 | Go to article overview

The Meal Plan: How Savvy Administrators Make Strategic Derisions about the Whore Campus Dining Experience-Because Meal Planning Isn't Just about the Food


Williams, Lauren, University Business


Only one-third of 3,400 U.S. college students say they're satisfied with their meal plans, found a survey by food industry research firm Technomic. But schools are finding that to address the problem, they need to go beyond simply improving what winds up on diners' plates.

As food service consultant David Porter says, "Sometimes it's not the food itself that can make or break a school's dining program; it's where and how it's available on campus." Porter, whose firm specializes in on-campus dining, adds that more college and university administrators are reexamining their school's dining plan to better fit the modern student, and as a result keep enrollment and recruitment high.

The right dining environment impacts recruitment numbers, retention rates, and even alumni relations, says Porter. "Studies have shown that when freshmen have a positive social experience and make friends at school, they are more likely to return as sophomores. Sitting down together and sharing a great meal is central to that."

How do you ensure your whole cam pus dining experience is the best it can be? The following are five trends to bite into.

1. Operating on students' time

Should we expand campus dining hours? It's a question being asked by administrators a lot these days. Still, Porter says some institutions open dining halls only for a few hours at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As a result, students often complain they can't use their meal plans when they want to use them and that the plans are not worth the cost.

"Students live on a different clock than the rest of the world," Porter says. "Many colleges are either extending their hours or implementing 24-hour dining locations."

Administrators at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) knew the school's 8,300 students tended to be both late-night and mobile. When SCAD partnered with Bon Appeit in 2012, dining officials began to offer three late-night options: Maru, a care offering various Asian fare that's open from 4 to 11 p.m., the Artisan Dell, open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and SCAD takeout, available from 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. The school is planning to add later hours to other campus eateries, as well, says Eric Davidson, SCAD's resident district manager for Bon Appetit.

As SCAD comprises 80 buildings spread across an urban environment, students were also asking for more quick meals between classes. "We wanted to be forward-thinking, as well as bring the students a fresher alternative to a vending machine or retail," says Davidson. "We came up with something fun: food trucks."

Since the beginning of the 2013 spring semester, two food trucks, created especially by Bon Appdtit, have been hitting four highly populated spots along two routes on campus between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. The trucks, which have been well-received, have rotating menus, with tacos, sliders, and vegetarian options now the most popular choices, Davidson says.

The food trucks are another option for students on campus who aren't on a meal plan, he adds. Davidson's team is considering keeping the food trucks running until as late as 5 a.m., and sending them to more locations, including catered events.

2. Providing a four-star experience

Upping the ante on the dining experience with restaurant-like quality dining is not a new trend, but institutions are taking the idea to the next level. Porter is seeing four-star restaurants and high-end food courts on campuses--with high-quality food as well as seating, flooring, and lighting selected to create the right ambiance.

In 2008, Washington University in St. Louis, also working with Boa Appetit, added Ibby's Restaurant, which Dining Services Manager Paul Schimmele says has been a great addition to the campus. The institution also has three large cafeteria-style dining halls and more than a dozen smaller eateries sprinkled around campus to serve its 14,000-plus undergrad and graduate student population. …

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