Food trucks are increasingly common on college campuses these days, but few have the history or record of versatility of the Daily Bite truck that operates at Purdue University.
Since debuting in September 2015, it has radically shifted its menu (and will do so yet again this fall), and has filled multiple roles—from a lunchtime retail option on the academic side of campus, to a dinnertime alternative for board plan holders on the residential side, to a mobile catering unit that can serve both on-campus functions like athletic events and social gatherings to off-campus events such as local festivals, where it can fly the flag for the university and its dining department.
Daily Bite originally came about when the Purdue Dining & Catering Revenue Project Team was charged with developing a revenue stream while meeting the needs of customers. The goal was to find a mobile foodservice unit that could optimize dining operations across campus locations to those that needed expanded services.
The mandate was based on the results of a consultant’s report on retail dining on the Purdue campus that put a priority on equipment and menu versatility. The resultant Daily Bite truck originally targeted faculty, staff and students at lunch on the academic side of campus while also catering to students using dining dollars on the residential side.
The Revenue Project Team that developed the mobile foodservice unit was abetted by several other bodies, including a team of four industrial engineering students who researched and recommended locations to park the truck as part of their Capstone Project. Other teams or individuals worked on payment solutions and truck design while Executive Chef Bruce Haumesser concentrated on coming up with a menu.
The approach he decided on focused on mac and cheese as its basis, which would be served in freshly made savory waffle cones for portability and scooped and topped to customer order. Highlights included Buffalo chicken, BBQ chicken and spinach/artichoke versions, plus “hot off the press” cheese-intensive sandwiches such as the headline (Parmesan-crusted pesto, fresh mozzarella and tomato on sourdough), the exclusive (apple and cheddar on multigrain wheat bread) and the obituary (pulled pork and bacon panini with smoked Gouda on marble rye with chunks of bacon cooked into the bread), plus a warm Nutella stuffed cookie as a dessert option.
The Daily Bite vehicle was commissioned from a local firm, On the Move, which delivered the customized unit in the summer of 2015.
The initial menu ran through the following summer, but while it superficially seemed popular, it only served 5,925 customers over the course of that first year.
Gears shifted for fall 2016 as Purdue Dining began to cope with a dramatic increase in the number of students on residential meal plans. One result was a shift in the Daily Bite menu approach designed to generate faster production, because the goal was now for the truck to serve an average of 75 students using meal swipes at dinner each night. Hence a new Mexican themed menu branded Tacolicious was introduced.
The change was a success as the Daily Bite ended up serving an average of 90 students a night in fall 2016 as part of Purdue Dining’s 7 Extra Ways to Use Your Meal Swipe initiative, intended to capture 570 dinner meal swipes each evening as a way to ease the pressure on the increasingly crowded dining courts. One of the other “Extra Ways”—the Gathering Place and 1North pop-up restaurants—ended up winning an FM Best Concept Award the following year.
Processes and recipes used in Daily Bite were refined to produce even more efficient and quick throughput the following year, resulting in an average of 115 dinner meal swipes a night in fall 2017, with the truck’s quesadillas quickly becoming the most popular choice. Meanwhile, the vehicle’s flexibility also allowed it to be deployed to a variety of events, from an appearance at Purdue’s annual campus Spring Fest in April to a wedding in June to the Taste of Tippecanoe community event in nearby Lafayette, Ind. later in the summer. The truck also provided lunch service to construction crews and university staff across the Purdue campus during that summer.
Fall 2017 saw an influx of 235 students on board dining contracts being housed at a local apartment complex because of a lack of adequate on-campus residential space. To help accommodate these students, Daily Bite made an appearance every Thursday night at the complex, averaging 95 meal swipes a night. Its menu was enhanced for the purpose with burritos and burrito bowls replacing the nachos on the menu.
The vehicle also jumped into the breech to help address the seating shortage during Fall Preview Days when campus guests swelled the dining population by offering lunch meal swipes for a special Boiler BBQ menu.
Ultimately, the decision to use Daily Bite as a dinner meal swipe option has been highly successful, producing a revenue increase of 278 percent and a customer count of 7,669, a 129 percent increase, though it did produce a downside in that the three-hour dinner period required extra labor, which jacked up the labor cost from 39 to 53 percent of revenue. However, the department’s stated priority was to meet the needs of students on meal plans, so the cost was absorbed.
Daily Bite is not resting on its laurels as a new completely menu will be unveiled for the fall 2018 semester. Tested and approved by the 40 members of Purdue Dining’s student advisory board in January, it will be called String Theory and will focus on Asian-inspired noodle bowls.