Like many other colleges, the focus at UMass has shifted to grab and go, but Toong says he’s training it to be done with a twist: “We know Gen Z wants convenience, but they also expect high quality and variety, made or finished in front of you,” he says.
Resizing the menu
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“I call it ‘resizing the menu,’” Toong says. “In terms of less toppings to choose from, for example, less ‘micro customization’ but overall more items you can choose.”
Holding onto the experience
Even though staff will be wearing face masks, Toong is telling them to “smile as much as you can!” Labels are being created, too, with phrases like “prepared with love.” Special events will be more virtual, but Toong hopes to continue the hospitality, just in a different way. During meetings with parents and students, the main concerns have been “Can we eat together?” (yes, six to a table) “We tell them about our options, and they still want variety and they still want a new experience,” Toong says.
Taking advantage of partnerships
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From producers of fresh fruits and veggies to Coca Cola, Toong makes sure to find out about any available partnerships, promotional materials and opportunities “to leverage marketing to highlight different items,” he says. This helps with food cost, along with food waste measures that had been gathering steam long before the pandemic.
Never stop communicating
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The UMass Dining team had ramped up manager meetings starting in the spring; weekly meetings became three times a weekly meetings and are now down to twice a week. “I think that planning and continuing to listen to customers and staff helps me maintain my optimism that we’ll be able to find some new opportunities,” Toong says. “We have to keep communicating because we know next spring will be a different time already.”
A new dining hall
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In September, an all-new dining center will open at UMass. Worcester Commons, a $68 million, three-story, 87,000-square-foot building, will have a café and a bake shop on the lower level, 16 food hall concepts plus a business-casual restaurant on the third floor. We’ll be keeping an eye on this for sure.