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5 things: Va Tech facing heavy meal plan demands; looks for more options

This and more are the things you missed for the week of August 19.

Each Friday Food Management compiles a list that highlights five things you probably missed in the onsite foodservice news that week and why you should care about them.

Here’s your list for the week of August 19:

1. Beer company pays district’s lunch debt

A beer company is ensuring that a northern Michigan school district starts the new year with no student lunch debt as a foundation affiliated with Mitten Brewing paid $2,700 to erase unpaid bills for meals and snacks in the Suttons Bay School District. Chris Andrus, an owner of Mitten Brewing, responded after one of his bartenders, who is also a substitute teacher in Suttons Bay, criticized a Pennsylvania school district for threatening parents over lunch debts. A recent SNA report noted that this seems to be a growing problem as the median amount of unpaid student meal debt reported by districts on its annual surveys have expanded by 70% since the 2012-13 school year.

Read more: Empty glass: Mitten Brewing Co. pays off school lunch debts

2. Meal plan demand has VA Tech looking at more dining options

It’s a problem many schools wish they had: As of early August, 10,440 students who will be living on campus at Virginia Tech had signed up for meal plans, which is about a thousand more than the 9,415 who had signed up by the same time last year; and that doesn’t include off-campus meal plan holders, who tend to sign up during the school year. Last year, 8,415 off-campus students signed up for meal plans, and the school ranked No. 4 on FM’s 2019 College Power Players list, which is based on number of meal plans sold, with 17,635, a number that didn’t include another 6,650 students who purchased only dining dollar accounts.

All this has the Best Concept Best of Show Award winning dining program scrambling to make sure the increased numbers are adequately accommodated. Plans include extending dining hall hours, expanding grab-and-go options and even inviting a handful of private food trucks to park on campus around lunchtime throughout the year.

Read more: Virginia Tech over-enrollment driving more food trucks onto campus

3. Columbia to open celebrity chef-helmed food hall

Columbia University's expansive Harlem campus will feature a new food hall helmed by

Chef Franklin Becker, known as the co-founder of fast-casual restaurant The Little Beet and for appearances on Bravo cooking shows such as “Top Chef Masters.” Becker was tapped by Columbia to create a food hall set to open next summer in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center on the school's satellite campus on West 125th Street and Broadway. He told the Wall Street Journal that food halls have the ability to "raise the bar" for campus dining options and get local vendors involved in a market dominated by large chains. Becker envisions a space that will have an atmosphere similar to a farmers’ market because of its emphasis on independent vendors.

Read more: Food Hall Coming to Columbia's Harlem Campus, Report Says

4. British hospital food slammed [Warning: gruesome pics]

Half of Great Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) hospitals are failing to comply with basic food standards, charges the advocacy group The Campaign for Better Hospital Food—and they have photos to prove it. The pictures (some reproduced in this article) show inedible looking and often unidentifiable dishes that were purchased premade and frozen, then left to sit in storage for as much as a year before being thawed and served. Part of the problem seems to be that NHS spends only £1.37 (about $1.67) per meal, which pretty much forces it to but a lot of premade meals in bulk from external suppliers.

Read more: Grim photos show depressing reality of ‘home cooked’ NHS hospital food – some meals frozen a year earlier

5. No-frills, all-takeout McDonald’s debuts

McDonald’s is reportedly opening a fleet of new restaurants that aim to feed customers faster by serving exclusively takeout. Characterized as the chain’s first new restaurant format since it introduced the drive-thru in the 1970s, the units require orders to be made on touchscreens. There are no tables, chairs or décor and the menu is stripped down to staple items like Big Macs, McNuggets and fries. This article describes a visit to a British location in London.

Read more: McDonald's just launched its first new type of restaurant since the drive-thru—here's what it's like to eat there

Bonus: ‘Uber for coffee’ brings morning drinks into the age of delivery

Contact Mike Buzalka at mike.buzalka@informa.com

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