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Articles: Food Service

Behind the scenes at the University of Vermont, chefs work with dining  program administrators to deliver student-requested items in a cost-effective manner. This can involve partnering with local food providers.

Colleges and universities that provide fresh, high-quality food do more than please students—offering good food is also good business. Here are several ways dining program leaders can increase satisfaction and meal plan participation while keeping operating costs stable.

While renovating the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, workers found a “chemical hearth” hidden behind the walls.

It turned out to have been part of an early science classroom commissioned by university founder Thomas Jefferson. The room, likely sealed in the mid-1800s, survived a fire in 1895 that destroyed much of the building’s interior.

Students, faculty and staff at the University of Vermont can eat foods prepared in the certified kosher kitchen, which is operated by Vermont Kosher LLC. In addition, a line of kosher grocery items is available for purchase.

What do you see as the biggest trend in meal plan design?

The push for campuswide sustainability and a fresh commitment to student health drive institutions to rethink their dining strategies. This might mean buying more food from local farmers and better educating students about their dietary habits.

Along those lines, Stanford University is the first higher ed institution in the nation to earn the United States Healthful Food Council’s REAL certification—an acronym for Responsible (nutrition), Epicurean (preparation), Agricultural (sourcing) and Leadership.

A pair of draft horses often plows the campus farm at Sterling College. Sterling does have tractors—its agriculture students have to learn how to use all varieties of equipment—but the energy-saving horses are just one step in the Vermont school’s extensive and award-winning sustainable dining program.

The farm produces about 20 percent of the food consumed in the college’s dining hall.

At the drop of a hat, we run down to the grocery store to grab food and water - never thinking these consumables are actually vulnerable to the threat of agroterrorism. Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, put it this way "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.”

Fair trade is a model in which producers are paid above market, “fair trade” prices provided they meet specific labor, environmental and production standards. (Photo:  Photograph by James Rodriguez, 2013, Fair Trade USA. All rights reserved)

Last fall Cabrini College (Pa.) became one of only 17 colleges and universities in the United States to be recognized as a “Fair Trade College.” (The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh was the first in 2008.)

Students at Savannah College of Art and Design have a variety of dining styles and locations to choose from across campus.

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.

While location is key when it comes to campus dining, students also appreciate delicious, unique food options. Here are some schools that have added meal options that have become a hit with students:  

A number of dining service management companies have used guest chef programs to spice up the dining experience on client campuses.

Bob Sempek at Treat America says bringing in chefs from other colleges, as well as from some of the consulting company’s business and industry accounts, has generated enthusiastic response. Students get to watch visiting chefs prepare gourmet fare, while the chefs get to travel a bit and enjoy a change of scene.

Every dining services operator aims to maximize cost efficiency, and that means saving money as well as producing revenue.

At UMass, Dartmouth, combining full-service and self-service dining under the management of Chartwells, has helped to reduce labor costs and improve efficiency, according to auxiliary services director Jeff Augustine.

“We are getting a lot more hours out of our labor and services for our students than we did with our previous vendor,” Augustine says.

In the summer of 2012, the University of Pennsylvania completed a sweeping renovation of one of its largest dining facilities—a three-story space that now includes a traditional dining hall, retail operations, and specialty dining concepts like a pizza oven and global cuisine.

The Stockton Campus  Center at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Prior to 2011, the sports and events facilities at the University of Mary Washington (Va.) were nothing to write home about. The university’s Dodd Auditorium had a capacity of 1,300 for concerts and other special events, and the Woodard Campus Center gymnasium, which was built in the 1950s, could only seat 500 and couldn’t be used for anything but sporting events.

Every three weeks, menu items rotate for The Flying Bison food truck located at Bucknell U.

The food truck craze that’s hit cities large and small across the nation has made its way to college and university campuses, offering up new dining options in new spots with more hours. Bringing a food truck to campus isn’t as easy as throwing in an oven and hoping students are hungry, though. It takes serious planning, but it’s worth it, shares John Cummins, general manager of residential dining for Parkhurst Dining, who brainstormed The Flying Bison food truck at Bucknell University (Pa.) for more than two years before the converted laundry truck became operational this spring.

Every year, the sustainability staff at UC Davis hosts a celebration to sum up its Meatless Monday campaign. Students learn about their impact, and, best of all, get to indulge in some free vegan ice cream.

Making dietary changes isn’t just a good idea for staying healthy—it’s a way of going green, too. Colleges and universities are quickly taking notice. By buying local and promoting eating less meat, they’re helping students change the way they think about food in their dining halls and across campus, for the health of not only the campus community, but the planet.

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