At Maryville University in St. Louis, the campus dining program has adapted to the coronavirus-imposed environment by converting its dining hall servery into a six-station ghost kitchen from which students mobile order meals for either pickup or delivery.
To start its fall semester, Maryville deployed a hybrid approach with in-person classes two days a week and online classes the rest of the time. There are 956 students on campus, about 400 below the normal number due in part to having to spread out resident students, mostly into single rooms. The university has also contracted with a couple of off-campus hotels to house about 300 students, who also are eligible to have meal plans and take advantage of the mobile order and delivery program.
“We had made the decision [to set up the ghost kitchen/mobile order program] early in hopes that we would be able to get back on campus,” says Linda Thacker, director of dining for management company Fresh ideas Foodservice Management Inc., which operates Maryville’s campus dining program. “Our priority was to keep both our staff and the faculty, staff and students of the university safe, which is why we decided to go to all mobile ordering.”
Because the campus dining hall’s servery would not be used, it was converted into a set of ghost kitchens, with new branding for each concept “to deliver value for the students because this was going to be really different for them,” Thacker offers. “What we were looking for were things that would travel well for delivery, fit well with mobile ordering and offer value for the students.”
The six ghost station concepts are Mozzies Pizza & Pasta, Slow Jam BBQ, Saborijos, Urban Hen, Sushi with Gusto and Fresh & G0. The latter offers a variety of pre-packaged salads, sandwiches, snacks and heat-and-eat Market items, while Saborijos is a Mexican cuisine concept menuing quesadillas, burritos and street tacos and Urban Hen is a grill that is open all day and is probably the most popular of the six in the early going, Thacker says.
To make sure there is value and appeal despite the distancing, “everything other than the grab and go at Fresh & GO is personalized and made fresh to order,” she adds.
For now, the menus are static, says Executive Chef Bernard Pilon. “Each station has its own menu. We based it on what can be served fresh, quick and what students want. We’ll obviously tweak things as we go along, taking out things that aren’t selling well and adding other things.”
Photo: Fresh Ideas Foodservice Executive Chef Bernard Pilon oversees menu development at Maryville University and developed the all-mobile-order menu that emphasizes portability while retaining as many student favorites as possible.
Photo credit: Fresh Ideas Foodservice
He also plans to introduce pop-ups to add variety and put back some of the things—ice cream, for example—that the mobile order/delivery program has made impractical. Pop-up offerings would only be served onsite.
Students who fail to send a mobile order can still have their order taken by dining ambassadors who are otherwise there to hand students their pickup orders from racks only they can access.
“We are discouraging [placing orders with the ambassadors], especially for students who live on campus, because we want them to use the app to order, but there are cases where the accounts haven’t been set up yet or they have a guest with them, so [ordering through ambassadors] is there as an option,” Thacker says.
All three dayparts offer mobile ordering of meals, but only lunch and dinner have the delivery option, which is available to residence hall drop-offs only. Faculty and staff are free to mobile order but must pick up at the dining center. Deliveries are made with the use of two vans and a golf cart employing a combination of dining staff and student workers to make the runs.
As the fall term began, only about a fifth of student mobile orders requested delivery, with the vast majority opting for in-person pickup, Thacker says, though she anticipates that may change with the weather. Already, rainy days bring more delivery requests.
To make deliveries as efficient as possible, orders are aggregated, with an average of 30 per delivery run, Thacker notes.
Deliveries to dorms are to the building lobby while the six on-campus apartment complexes get delivery to individual residences. For the two off-campus hotels, the deliveries go to a designated area in the lobby.
Thacker says there is an average of 45 minutes between an order being transmitted and the delivery being made. Deliveries are made between 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day.