A new hands-on concept deployed by dining services provider Sodexo at the University of Mary Washington (UMW) puts students front and center as Student Dining Ambassadors (SDAs).
The SDAs welcome new students and visitors when they arrive at UMW’s Dining at the Top of the University Center dining hall, where they provide directions and answer questions about the dining program. The ambassadors also help run promotional events, prepare and serve food during special or holiday meals, create menu displays, relay student feedback, run the dining operation’s social media accounts and provide up-to-date information about what Sodexo’s campus dining program offers the campus community.
Among their activities, SDAs deploy social media marketing of events, consistently update signage across the dining locations, make comment cards available at all dining locations and assist with Table Talk sessions where students can meet with dining managers in a casual atmosphere to ask questions or make suggestions about any aspect of dining services.
“I actually applied to be on the school’s Culinary Council first,” says Julia Gibbons, one of the SDAs. “Being a food lover, I knew I would be more than happy to share opinions about food. When I applied, Rose Benedict, my current boss, asked me if I had considered applying for a job with Sodexo as well and that new positions were opening up. I decided to apply for dining ambassador.”
Gibbons says her best approach to the position requires a lot of patience and listening.
“As dining ambassadors and students we have to understand both the challenges and limitations of providing a successful and efficient foodservice and the concerns and needs of our student body here at UMW,” Gibbons notes.
One major recent challenge for the SDAs was to smooth the campus’s transition this year to the new University Center, which replaced the 84-year-old Seacobeck Dining Hall. “Students did not know to ask our employees about gluten-free bread and hamburger buns, so they believed they did not have those options available even though they are,” Gibbons says. “Some did not know that Simple Servings is an allergy-free station.”
“I believe that all student dining services should provide a student dining ambassador program,” says Bryant Atkins, also a UMW SDA. “This would allow foodservice companies to allocate resources to fit the needs of the students.”
Atkins said he approaches students as a peer, “which lets them know that we genuinely care about their questions and requests about UMW dining services.”
“Initiating the Student Dining Ambassador program was one of the smartest decisions we’ve ever made,” notes Rose Benedict, UMW dining’s marketing coordinator. “We are only five months into this endeavor and have already seen how the ambassadors enhance the overall dining experience for all of our guests and help bridge the information gap between campus dining and the student community. Our dining team is looking forward to seeing this program develop and grow in the months ahead.”
Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]