Binghamton University's completely renovated University Marketplace dining venue has been nearly doubling the sales generated by the food court it replaced over the first month of its opening, says James Ruoff, general manager for Sodexo's operation at Binghamton, which includes University Marketplace.
Located in the school's student union complex, the venue features a dozen branded stations, including Red Mango, Pandini’s, Mein Bowl, SubConnection, Cafe Spice, The Diner (featuring local foods), Garden Toss, Wholly Habaneros, New York Street Deli and International, a breakfast and rotating lunch kiosk. There's also a c-store and a cafe serving Starbucks branded items. The cafe, though not all the stations, are open 24 hours on weekdays.
"Our transactions have been right in line with what we expected," Ruoff says. "We are currently serving over 25,000 customers each week in the first month of operations." He says the most popular stations have been Mein Bowl, Pandini’s, We Proudly Brew and the Diner.
"Our day parts have been interesting" he notes. "Once we get busy for lunch, there is not much of a break until 8:00 pm. The afternoon customer counts have been very steady until that time. We are seeing a drop off after this, but it was anticipated."
Ruoff says Sodexo plans to shift its overnight operations to a Cakes and Eggs station where students will be able to get breakfast food favorites overnight.
"We hope by doing this we will be able to increase our overnight business," he says. "We also expect to see increase demand during this time as the students get closer to end of the semester projects and exams."
One of the innovative aspects of the University Marketplace operation is the use of RFID chips in reusable drink cups to monitor refills at the Coke Freestyle fountain machine. It "has worked as well as we could have expected," Ruoff notes. "It gives us the opportunity to offer over 100 beverage options to our customers with control over the numbers of pours purchased and used. It also allows our customers the option of buying single pour soda or reusable cup that can be loaded with many different fill levels (including unlimited fills) for the semester. It is a value for our students and very responsive to the University’s sustainability efforts. It is a real win for everyone."
“I think the Marketplace is doing incredibly well, especially considering how many brand new employees were hired in order to ensure its fluidity and success," says Jillian Shotwell, a Binghamton senior who is head of the new Student Culinary Council that works with the school and with Sodexo on dining issues. "I am very impressed with the options offered in the marketplace, but what I am most impressed with is the management's interest in student and customer satisfaction. I notice small positive changes to the MarketPlace every time I am in there, and this is how I know Sodexo and the management team are going far beyond what is required to make the MarketPlace an incredible dining facility on campus.”
Shotwell also notes some of the other advantages of the reusable cup program, including promotions and sustainability.
“I think the freestyle machines are very interesting," she says. "I have seen a ton of students with the re-useable cups, and think it is very cool that different Binghamton University programs are able to advertise on the cups. It adds a more personalized touch to the MarketPlace and I think it has increased attendance at some of our sports games. I really hope the re-useable cups are able to expand beyond the marketplace, especially as an environmentally-focused student."