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Rick Johnson: A Flex-Plan Approach to Culinary Excellence

Rick Johnson: A Flex-Plan Approach to Culinary Excellence

From installing a wood-burning pizza oven to composing a meaningful value statement, the re-engineering of a dining program takes a lot of planning. According to Virginia Tech’s Director of Housing and Dining Services Rick Johnson, planning and communication with students were key elements that took the dining program to the top of the Princeton Review “Best College Food” list, and helped the school sell more than 18,000 meal plans.

“By telling students what we’re doing, and how we care about them,” he said. “We went from complaints to compliments.”

Johnson said planners found that students are willing to wait for cooked-to-order authenticity. The planning process also included trips to restaurants and state-of-the-art food courts, to see what dining services was up against in the real world.

Another component that gets people talking is the dazzling special events at Virginia Tech. “We see special events as a way to improve our student satisfaction,” Johnson said. “We hear them say, ‘You should’ve been there last night.’” (For more on Virginia Tech’s program, see the cover story in the June 2008 issue of FM.)

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