May 16, 2013
May 21, 2013

Collegiate foodservice executives are boosting customer satisfaction by cutting back — on options, on waste and on portions.

The college dining halls of the 21st century are at the cutting edge of trends in foodservice, testing many of the ideas that will likely show up in restaurants and other institutions, in one form or another, in the foreseeable future. To that end, then, foodservice directors have seen a jump in customer satisfaction by, paradoxically, reducing selection.

“Look at the grill: Most operations have seven or eight different items that can be grilled. Change it up so that there’s just one item, but it’s made to order with all the right condiments.

Fixed-cost environment
One of the unique challenges to planning foodservice in an educational environment is the fact that it’s a fixed-cost system, so any financial gains have to be made on the cost side. But research has shown that the quality of life — including the quality of dining — is a key factor in which schools students (and their parents) opt to pay for. College dining hall executives have to serve two masters with widely divergent priorities: the administrators and the students.

In recent years, dining halls have moved to serve a dizzying variety of dining options, Mongolian grills and wood ovens . . . a sea of food.  Faced with an overload of choices, students often pick the same meals over and over again, which may also affect their nutritional intake and overall health.

In the last year, the focus was on correct proportioning, convenience, portability and perceived value, and found that its ratings in student satisfaction surveys rose substantially.

Going trayless
Furthermore, “trayless dining” has been tested on various campuses. Forcing students to juggle the plates they were taking led them to, naturally, choose fewer plates — and eat more that was on those plates rather than “graze” through several food choices and throw much of it away.

Some colleges are reducing their output in other ways as well: Some are as time-honored as using smaller plates in the dining hall. Others include reduced portion sizes. For example, chicken breasts are now 3 ounces in size, down from 4 ounces previously. Beef servings have been cut to 3 ounces from 6 ounces, and pork has been reduced to a 3-ounce serving from 4 ounces. In many dishes, the protein is used as an ingredient in a dish, such as Asian stir-fries and sandwiches — making more vegetables, for example, a default dining option as well.

The students’ perspective
Students at smaller schools lamented the quality of the dining services: At one school, the dining hall closes at 5 p.m. and when it is open, serves mostly hamburgers and bad pizza. Some students chose to live in an en suite dormitory where they could make their own meals, because they weren’t confident that the school’s one dining hall would meet their needs as a long-time vegetarian.

Students were interested in knowing more about what was on their plates, whether it was nutritional information that was lacking, or information about the origins of the food (was it locally sourced?), or whether it met increasingly divergent dietary needs, such as food allergies, wheat intolerance, kosher diets or other choices.

Still, some things seem to remain the same: Students are more aware of food, but the normal base of students don’t care about food. Most of the women want salads, and guys are more likely to get something quick to eat. They’re not focused on ‘health.

Saval Foodservice, the #1 Independent Broadline Wholesale Food Service Distributor in Baltimore, Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC. Serving restaurants, carry outs, delis, caterers, country clubs, and grocery stores.

Source:, 4.25.13

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