Operators are leveraging portable prepacked meal options to reach more dayparts, offer more service points and extend their reach.
Short lunch periods with discouragingly long lines…onsite population growth that strains the capacity of fixed foodservice outlets…customers who have a hard time reaching the café due to distance or time constraints. These are some of the challenges faced by today’s in-house dining departments across all segments.
One solution is that old standby, the grab-and-go meal and a quick survey shows that onsite operators are continuing to find new ways to put it to use.
RELATED: OSU Launches Grab and Go Nutrition Labeling Initiative
Trailer Takeout. The University of California at Merced is the newest university in the UC system. Opened in 2005 with 600 students (350 resident), it now enrolls 6,000 with 2,100 residents—the latter up from 1,500 only last year. Unsurprisingly, such rapid enrollment growth has put great pressure on the campus dining program, especially since the main dining center is basically unchanged from eight years and 5,400 students ago.
“As we grew we felt an urgency to sustain the level of food service to students we started with,” says Dining Services Director Jason Souza.
Souza’s solution, since expansion of the in-house dining capacity is not imminent, has been to contract with three local independent restaurateurs, who set up shop on the Cal-Merced campus from 11 am to 2 pm daily during the week.
The eateries—J&R Tacos, Bella Luna Italian Bakery and Sam’s Café–operate out of two 4x8-ft. trailers purchased by Cal-Merced Dining. They lease the trailers and space for a percentage of the revenue they generate and take turns with two on campus each day on a rotating basis.
Students can pay cash or use the school’s flex dollars. The trailers include a 36” flat top grill, steam table, burner and small fridge but most of the food is prepared offsite and served by restaurant staff. Between them, the two restaurant outlets serve up to 350 customers a day, taking pressure off Cal-Merced’s own in-house operations.
“I can handle the breakfast and dinner crowds, which tend to be mostly resident students, but lunch was very difficult because of all the commuters and the short time windows between classes,” Souza says.
End-Running the Lunch Line
At the Vista Grande Union High School in Arizona, long lunch lines traditionally alienated students from getting lunch in the school cafeteria, where slow service aggravated by custom-made choices limited the numbers who could get through the server during the 12-15 minutes students have for getting lunch.
Now, service is much faster thanks to a philosophical change that added prepackaged grab and go options that students can quickly take. The result has been a boost in daily lunch sales from 600 or so to nearly 950, says Jeff Stempak, district manager for Summit Foodservice, a contract management company that operates foodservice for the Casa Grande Union High School District, of which Vista Grande is part.
“Giving them something they can just take and go has certainly helped,” Stempak says. “So have some of the new meal choices like our chef salads. We sell around 125 of those daily.”
The expanded menu of wraps, salads and sandwiches are now pre-prepared each day in Vista’s kitchen and put out ready for students when they come down. Student monitors at the doors regulate the flow to ensure that not too many get into the server area at any one time as this slows everybody down.
Carts for Caregivers
At NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, a temporary measure designed to mitigate the effects of the shutdown of the facility’s main cafeteria and central kitchen by Hurricane Sandy a year ago has now become a continued program because of its effectiveness in serving the staff on patient floors. The program sends mobile carts to the floors with a variety of grab-and-go meal choices and the nurses love it, according to Betty Perez, senior director of food and nutrition services.
“It improves the quality of their lives,” Perez says. “The carts operate on a fixed schedule from 7 am to 7 pm on weekdays so they know when they’re coming. They’re all cash transactions and we average around $600 a day selling to both nurses and visitors.”