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Spicing Up Campus Dining:

20 Ideas to Consider
University Business, Oct 2009

1. Personalized d?cor?featuring a campus mural, as at Georgetown University (D.C.), or student artwork, as at Winthrop University (S.C.), the University of Southern California and Norwich University (Vt.). Georgetown’s mural includes university founder John Carroll, a classroom scene, university sports, D.C. memorials overlooking the Potomac River, a graduation scene, and the university seal. At USC, a selection of student art gets rotated so there is always something fresh for diners to look at. Norwich’s hall features historic artwork and photos.

2. Floral touches?as the College of Mount St. Joseph (Ohio) and Chatham University (Pa.) include.

3. Regular admissions contact?such as at Clark University (Mass.) and Gettysburg College (Pa.), so tour guides know what to highlight. Beginning this fall, Clark tour guides attend the information session dubbed “Dining 101” so they’ll have all the background they need to help “sell” the school to prospectives. Gettysburg has a dining service rep meet with tour guides twice a year to review programs and answer questions.

4. Free food for prospectives?which can be a full meal or even just a treat, as Ashland University in Ohio and the College of Mount St. Joseph provide. Ashland entices visitors with a 5.5-inch chocolate chunk “AU Cookie” (since 1991, the admissions department has also mailed more than 20,000 cookies to help in recruiting). At Mount St. Joseph, it’s a soft serve ice cream cone is the “parting gift” for visitors touring the dining facility.

5. Pre-order options?as at Benedictine University (Ill.), where students can text message their orders. It’s a service implemented as a way to reduce wait time in the dining hall, which operates like a restaurant. In the near future, students and staff will also be able to place their orders using any computer linked to the campus network.

6. A signature dish?the Hoya Wrap at Georgetown or the French Dip at Whitworth University (Wash.) might provide inspiration. Whitworth has “French Dip Friday,” which has become somewhat of a cult phenomenon. Residence halls have contests to see who can eat the most French Dip sandwiches.

7. Formal and informal feedback mechanisms?from surveys and “dine with the director” events (as at Baylor University in Texas) to paper and virtual comment cards, to managerial face time with students.

8. Student on staff?such as the paid student promotion coordinator position at Franklin and Marshall College (Pa.)

9. Web communication efforts?such as Loyola University Maryland’s Facebook and YouTube programs for prospectives, or the live webcams used by Lipscomb University (Tenn.). Loyola’s social media program allows students to view photos, videos, and comments other students have made about the dining program. And at, students can use the live webcam to check out how crowded the dining hall is prior to leaving their dorms or while dining to, say, wave hello to Mom and Dad.

10. A “We Heard You” program to note changes made based on feedback?such as at Southern Methodist University.

11. On-campus produce?from an herb or vegetable garden that ideally students tend as a learning experience.

12. Posted nutrition info?via a kiosk, the web, or both.

13. Special cooking demos?with fun titles, a la Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s (Ariz.) “How to Impress Your Date for $20.” That program, one monthly special event, showed how to could prepare fine dining menu items such as fresh Thai spring rolls and cedar plank salmon on a student’s budget.

14. A separate take-out area?with biodegradable and reusable containers (try charging those who use disposables).

15. Reusable cups and mugs?with discounts given to those who choose them.

16. Napkin holders on tables?so diners don’t grab more than they need.

17. A cooking oil conversion program?such as at The College of Wooster (Ohio), where a catering truck runs on waste oil.

18. Preservice powwows?before each meal, as the College of Mount St. Joseph, Clark University, and George Mason University (Va.) do.

19. Mystery shoppers*?which Rollins College (Fla.), the University of South Florida, the University of Mary Washington (Va.), and Eastern Kentucky University use to ensure superior service. At U of Mary Washington, a mystery shopper reviews everything from cleanliness and food quality and presentation to server attitudes and helpfulness. Reports are reviewed daily and staff training is added as needed. EKU contracts with an independent research company, Confero Inc., for its program. The mystery shoppers generate a detailed report and provide a snapshot of the dining services as students experience them. Managers aren’t happy unless staffers being “shopped” score in the 90th percentile or better.

20. Community-building events?such as an annual Thanksgiving dinner (like at Chatham and Gettysburg) or “Friday on the Quad” at Roanoke College (Va.). That event is held at Roanoke, in collaboration with the student activities office, as the end to every fall and spring week. It features music and other entertainment as well as, of course, good food.


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