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Supporting the Mission

Supporting the Mission

TEAM PICTURE. Director Timothy Dietzler (foreground) with some of his staff: (l. to r.) Dept. Nutritionist Jessica Pellicciotta, Retail/Residence Hall Operations Director Michael McGuckin; Administrative Assistant Bernice Clary; Donahue Market Supervisor Sandra Greene; C-Store Operations General Manager Michael Walsh; Assistant Dining Director Christine Rittenhouse.
PICTURE TELLS OF STOREY. The Second Storey c-store sits next to one of the campus's three resident dining halls and provides an alternative dining venue using Meal Plan Express.
GOING COURTING. The food court at Donahue Hall features a series of self-branded concepts.
COLLEGE LIFE: The Belle Air Terrace retail snack bar offers fare like an international station, rotissier turkey wraps, chicken fingers, made-to-order deli sandwiches, pizza and packaged salads as well as a salad bar, along with dramatic ambiance.

INTO MOVIES. One sidelight business for Villanova Dining Services is movie and game rentals. The department manages Reel Divine in the Connelly Center that stocks some 1,300 titles. Pictured here is Operation Supervisor Matt Thompson, with some of his selections.

Visit Villanova University on a fine late spring day and you will be charmed by the pastoral atmosphere of the campus, which sits about a half hour west of Philadelphia. Suffused in history and its Augustinian traditions, Villanova for most of its history served to educate the sons (and eventually the daughters) of Eastern Pennsylvania's Catholic families. It offers a traditional liberal arts curriculum grounded in the principles of faith and service proclaimed by St. Thomas of Villanova and the Roman Catholic Order of St. Augustine (see sidebar below).

As one considers Villanova's many advantages—its ranking as one of the country's top 20 undergraduate business schools by Business Week magazine, its 13 years at the top of the Best Universities-Masters category for the northern region in the prestigious US News & World Report rankings, its vibrant campus life and high-profile men's basketball team—one may elude you...the campus dining services operation.

This is not because of any lack in its performance, but instead reflects the "servant as leader" philosophy of its director, Tim Dietzler, that leadership is first and foremost an act of service. That philosophy-is detailed in the book The Servant Leader, by Ken Blanchard-and Phil Hodges, a slim volume Dietzler has given to dozens of staff and colleagues. In that spirit, Villanova boasts a service-focused, highly professional college foodservice that...

  • has assembled a network of campus dining outlets notable for both the quality of its offerings and the creative whimsy of its marketing (a branded coffee station concept called Holy Grounds, a business school dining outlet modeled on the New York Stock Exchange, complete with stock ticker);
  • continually churns out inspired meal plan options that meet evolving student needs while preserving the institution's financial interests;
  • maintains operations that hum with the quiet, well-tuned efficiency of an enterprise that gets the most from available resources;
  • and has actively supported the goals and mission of disparate campus entities that range from the Center for Peace & Justice Education to the Japanese Studies Program of the Department of Classical & Modern Languages and Literatures.

Yet, even on campus, unless you actively do business with Dining Services, you would be hard-pressed to give them a second thought. That's because what they do meshes so perfectly and so unobtrusively with campus life and activities that they become part of the atmosphere, something just there and right, like the greenery and the historic buildings. And, except to recognize the excellence of individual team members, the department rarely toots its own horn.

This is undoubtedly a reflection of Dietzler, who is low-key almost to a fault. He obsesses about all the right things: how to better meet the dining needs of students and staff, how to position his department to meet those needs in the future and how to serve the larger institutional mission.

"In this business you earn your reputation every day in every single transaction," he says. "At any given time you could have hundreds, even thousands, of reputations based on the individual experiences and perceptions of your customers."

A Villanova graduate who had worked in commercial restaurants before returning to his alma mater 19 years ago, Dietzler combines operational experience and savvy with a deep respect for the institution he serves. Starting as a foodservice manager in one of the board dining halls, he became a general manager in what was then a fragmented campus dining operation.

"The university operated separate dining departments for many years," he explains. "We had one that took care of the resident halls and some cash ops. We also had the Connelly Center, our student union, with a retail food operation and its own director. Meanwhile, vending was under a separate arm of procurement."

That all began to change in 1993 when the disparate operations were brought under a new director of auxilliary services. When the resident hall dining director resigned in 1995, Dietzler became one of the two associate directors assigned to replace him. He and fellow associate director Tina Cellucci (now director of administration for dining services), along with the Connelly Center director, all reported to Executive Director of Budgeting & Auxiliary Services Frederick Sieber. In 2002, Sieber promoted Dietzler to sole director.

Through his tenure, Dietzler has seen his department evolve from a very traditional and rigid campus dining service into today's much more flexible and responsive operation. Once largely a commuter school where the small contingent of resident students ate three meals a day at the university monastery, Villanova didn't open its first campus dining hall until the late 1950s, when only 600 students resided on campus.

In 1993, the department began "a full transformation of the dining program," in Dietzler's words. This involved both a series of renovations and the formulation of a new three-tier meal plan approach that has driven revenues above the average meal plan price increase for over seven years, he says proudly.

"When I first started, we had the single meal plan and our focus was really just serving students in the residence dining halls," Dietzler says. "It was a wonderful program, but we were closing at 6:30 at night and there was nothing available past then. Beginning in '93, we made a big push, taking advantage of the retail outlets, expanding our serving hours, expanding our meal plan option and focus, and giving students a lot of flexibility."

A major component of the transition was the Meal Plan Express program Dietzler instituted in 1993. It allows students to substitute retail purchases for a dining hall meal at certain retail locations during designated hours (Dietzler avoids the term equivalency because it invites comparisons of meal values and prices).

"It let us push back into some later serving hours and use the Connelly Center (and eventually other retail outlets) to augment the dining halls," he notes.

The 1993-2002 period also saw modest upgrades of the board dining halls and the openings of a slew of new cash operations.

"We have transformed from a dining program offering six hours of dining a day to over 18 hours. At the same time we lowered food and labor expenses effectively by over six percent in both areas, and driven the contribution to the General Education & Expense fund higher each year since 1996," Dietzler notes.

Since taking over as sole department director, Dietzler has concentrated on confronting the greater institutional challenges hampering the department's efforts to meet the needs of 21st century students. It is a very tough assignment. In his way stand two campus realities: one is something Villanova has in abundance (tradition) and the other is something it finds increasingly scarce ( physical space).

The ghosts of history hover over almost every improvement project. Take St. Mary Hall, site of one of the three all-you-caretoeat board dining halls. St. Mary was originally part of an Augustinian seminary adjacent to the Villanova campus "so it's a rather unique building to work in," Dietzler says.

(Among other signs of its history, St. Mary's retains the seminary chapel and row of individual prayer nooks used by seminarians for private meditation; also, the dining area is dominated by a mosaic wall mural depicting the Last Supper).

The dining room where the novitiates took their meals was set up for family style service, not the multiple-choice cafè dining today's students expect. To increase the choices, Dining Services installed self-serve hot food and salad bars as well as a grill space, but the options for major upgrades are limited. Dietzler would dearly love to completely renovate St. Mary but "working in this environment, you have to preserve the integrity of the building," he concedes. "Leaving some tradition is important."

What he did do was convert a vacant court yard adjacent to the dining hall space into a two story building featuring a retail c-store. Dubbed the Second Storey, it has been one of the department's biggest recent successes.

Developed with the 1,200 student apartment dwellers in the nearby Back Campus area in mind, Second Storey has a sizeable market for its full-service deli, meals-to-go, groceries and frozen foods product mix, especially since students can use their Meal Plan Express option to make purchases.

Dietzler muses about simply taking the entire St. Mary dining space and making it into an expanded Second Storey (the retail and resident dining hall areas share a common production area that sits between them and effectively divides the two spaces). But...

"It's hard to change things because it's the way things have always been, and there has always been a dining hall here at St. Mary," he concedes.

Those ghosts again.

Noshes From Underground?
Tradition combines with space limitations and operational logistics issues (never mind financial considerations) to frustrate (so far) changes at another location, Dougherty Hall, which Dietzler terms the "the anchor for most of our operations on campus."

A relic of the 1950s, Dougherty has become a kind of eternal project for Dining Services. "For the entire 19 years I've been here, we've been talking about renovating that building," Dietzler laughs. "It's such a fixed structure. There's a ramp that takes you around to fixed stations and serving lines...12-gauge stainless steel...there really isn't much we could do without a major effort."

The problems had been mitigated somewhat with the additions of two cash operations (see sidebar on p. 48) that augment the antiquated board dining operation in Dougherty. However, they are a band-aid; Dougherty really needs major surgery.

Part of Dietzler's challenge is that Dougherty functions as a commissary for the various campus retail operations.

"We can't shut it down, even in the summer," he says, "so we're trying to find other ways to attack it." Moving the commissary operation to another building on campus is a non-starter (that space issue again), "so the challenge is, how are we going to renovate Dougherty Hall without putting another building on campus?"

His solution: "Project Mole."

As its name implies, Project Mole is subterranean. It would entail building a 25,000-sq.ft. underground kitchen and serving area beneath the campus commons area. That new facility would become a central commissary while Dougherty undergoes a complete renovation. Afterwards, the underground area would become a permanent retail space connecting Dougherty (a major campus

As its name implies, Project Mole is subterranean. It would entail building a 25,000-sq.ft. underground kitchen and serving area beneath the campus commons area. That new facility would become a central commissary while Dougherty undergoes a complete renovation. Afterwards, the underground area would become a permanent retail space connecting Dougherty (a major campus administrative center) with the Connelly Center directly across the commons.

"It wouldn't have a visual impact on the center part of campus but would give us additional space," Dietzler explains.

"The idea is to build this elaborate serving area underground and transition a move into that. It would include an all-you-can-eat dining area as well as a convenience store and a walk-up counter for 24-hour service."

Meanwhile, the renovated Dougherty Hall would no longer need the large dining hall it currently operates, leaving room for desperately needed additional student programming and conferencing space. These in turn could provide additional catering opportunities for Dining Services.

"It's really a win/win for everyone," Dietzler argues.

Project Mole is currently in a project queue awaiting decisions on funding.

Making Do
How do you meet modern student needs on a campus that imposes so many restrictions? Very carefully and very creatively.

Villanova Dining Services has worked to manage a slow evolution that includes a series of dining outlets that supplement the three traditional board dining halls, extending hours, providing variety and increasing flexibility. Meal Plan Express makes select retail outlets realistic and affordable alternatives for resident students at designated times of the day (and, ironically, may have taken some of the pressure off from having to make significant renovations to the dining halls).

Still, space considerations make operations difficult. Take the highly successful The Exchange operation, where attractive display makes the food feel prepared-to-order even though most of it is pre-made and served to plate. "It's basically a sardine can operation that nevertheless does $1.3 million a year," Dietzler says (The Exchange averages 1,700 transactions a day from a 900-sq.ft. space). "The marvelous dishes they make in that cramped kitchen space...well, I'm still trying to figure out how they do that."

In the traditional dining halls, the department has sought to be as responsive as possible to meeting student expectations. The high satisfaction scores the department continues to garner testify to its continuing success in this area.

Dietzler has not stopped planning for the future. He wants to put a completely organic salad bar into the retail Belle Air Terrace location. Menus will also be upgraded once a new executive chef—a new position—is brought on board in June.

Meanwhile, he relies on what has been achieved so far. This includes the signature marketing touch of the various concept names that play on the school's Catholic ties. In addition to Holy Grounds, there are the Padre Pizza and Heavenly Wings & Other Things in the Donahue Food Court.

"We try to have fun with the Augustinian traditions of the university," he admits.

At the same time, Villanova has sought to make its campus a welcoming one to students of other faiths and cultures. As at many universities, the food choices increasingly include a wide variety of ethnic choices. The department even started a halaal program in conjunction with the Muslim Student Association last year, when halaal choices were available daily through the Muslim feast of Ramadan (for this effort, MSA named an award after Dietzler, and he was its first recipient).

The initiative is just one in a series designed to prepare the department for an anticipated increase in international students. The school's strategic plan calls for increasing this portion of the student body from the current 15% to as much as 25% in the next five years. Villanova recruiters have been circling the globe from Istanbul to Beijing in search of future students. "A big factor," says Director of Admissions Michael Gaynor, "is providing a campus on which foreign student feel comfortable and welcome."

Assisting the Academic Mission

IF YOU KNEW SUSHI LIKE I KNOW SUSHI...Dining Services worked with the Japanese Language Department on a class on culinary practices like sushi making.

Most university dining departments embed into the life of the larger institution in ways outside of simply providing meals. However, at Villanova, the department has sought to go the extra mile in this regard.

"It began about eight years ago with having the rewriting of our strategic plan," explains Dining Services Director Tim Dietzler."Much was made at the time of supporting the academic mission and we really brainstormed what our niche should be in regard to that."We decided to focus on supporting socially responsible projects and the student service initiative, which is a major part of Villanova's curriculum" (through the campus's Center for Peace & Justice Education, Villanova students go on service learning trips and participate on various levels with the local community).

Part of the support is financial. For example, the department donates food product to students that is then resold to raise money to help defray their personal expenses for Habitat for Humanity projects, a major campus cause. Dining Services is also the campus's largest department sponsor of the Special Olympics— hosted each November by the university at its facilities—as well as a major partner in pulling off the event.

"We work with the Special Olympics student committee in planning the weekend food-wise," says Michael McGuckin, director of retail & residence-hall operations."We have upwards of 1300 athletes and coaches who come on campus for the three-day event and they eat all their meals here (school being in session and the campus residence halls occupied, the Special Olympians stay at local hotels). Lunch and dinner are served in one designated dining hall and breakfast in two. It's a very rewarding weekend for everyone. Fortunately, since they are mostly teens and young adults, we don't have to change our menus very much for them."

In addition to supporting these and other service projects, Villanova Dining Services also has worked with academic departments. One initiative was an exchange program facilitated by Dr. Yinliang Chi of the Modern Languages department that brought four chefs from East China Normal University to Villanova for two-year stays, while several Dining Services staffers got to tour The People's Republic (though not for two years).

"The following year we actually partnered with the Chinese and Japanese Language departments on two classes in which our staff helped develop the food component of the classes on those cultures. "They prepared authentic Chinese and Japanese dishes as part of the course."

The department is currently working with Dr. Chi to develop an authentic Chinese restaurant for the campus, perhaps as part of Dietzler's projected underground dining complex (see main story).

It has also worked with Dr. Masako Hamada of the Japanese Studies Program to bring a master sushi chef to the campus and to provide facilities and procure authentic ingredients for her course on Japanese culinary traditions.

"We're a very efficient operation but we also want to be good stewards of that and see how we can connect with the local community," Dietzler says.

At a Glance:

Name: Villanova Dining Services

Annual Revenues: $22 million ($13.5 million-residential dining; $7 million-retail; $1.5 million-catering)

Employees: 500 (incl. student staff)

Outlets: 17 (3 board, 14 retail)

Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,100

Resident Students: 3,300

Meal Plans Sold: 4,500

Executive Team: Frederick Sieber, executive director of budgeting & campus auxiliary services; Timothy Dietzler, director of dining services; Tina Louise Cellucci, director of administration; Michael McGuckin, director of retail & residence hall operations; Anthony Alfano, director of Connelly Center and vending; Joanna Di-Bianca, associate director of catering; Christine Rittenhouse, assistant director

Where to Eat at Villanova

VENUES. (from top.) the Second Storey beverage aisle, the self-serve bar at St. Mary Dining Hall, sandwiches to go at The Exchange.

Villanova Dining Services operates three all-you-care-to-eat board dining halls and 14 retail outlets.The dining halls are located in each of the campus's three major sections.

Dougherty Hall, in the Central Campus area, is the campus's oldest dining hall and retains the traditional straightline approach, augmented by Center Square, a signature made-to-order sandwich/salad station.

St. Mary's, located in a former seminary complex at the West End, is also a traditional setup. Both of these dining halls feature an array of standard choices augmented with daily specials.

Donahue Court, with its set of self-branded serving stations and bright open seating area surrounded by wall-length picture windows on three sides, is by far the most modern of the three.

The retail operations are strategically placed to bolster the offerings of the dining halls. With the Meal Plan Express (MPE) option, students can substitute a dining hall meal for a meal at some of these locations at designated hours.

At St. Mary's, the Second Storey c-store sits directly opposite the dining hall and offers a deli counter, pizza, ice cream and a variety of packaged and ready-to-go foods. It stays open until 2 am and accepts MPE all day.

A smaller c-store, the Donohue Market, augments Donohue Court with an array of snacks, smoothies and bottled beverages and is open until 1 am every day.

Rather than c-stores, Dougherty is backed by two retail outlets located directly upstairs: the St. Corner Grill and the Italian Kitchen. Both accept MPE meal substitutions all day.

The other major dining complex is the Connelly Center in the Central Campus area not far from Dougherty. It includes a snack bar operation called the Belle Air Terrace that accepts MPE at designated times during the three dayparts, as well as the Ice Cream Shoppe and one of the four Holy Grounds coffee shop locations. The other three are an engineering building, a library and @The Exchange at Bartley Hall, the commerce and finance building at the Central Campus's eastern end. The Exchange also has a retail outlet featuring ready-made gourmet wraps, sandwiches, salads and daily specials. The Holy Grounds outlets all accept MPE all day but The Exchange does not.

The last three retail outlets are the St. Augustine Cafè in the Liberal Arts Building, the Law School Cafè and the faculty dining room.

Many Plans

Villanova currently has 6,100 undergraduate students, of whom 3,300 live in traditional-campus dorms or apartments.These are required to purchase a meal plan.Another 1,200 live in apartments that have no meal plan requirement while the remaining 1,600 are commuters or reside off campus (the school tries to guarantee campus housing through junior year, and a couple of recent building projects are trying to make it possible to extend that to all four years).

Last year,Villanova Dining Service managed to sell 4,500 meal plans, meaning some 1,200 students purchased a plan without being required to.

"We give students a lot of options to choose from," explains Dining Services Director Tim Dietzler. Last academic year, 14 different plans were available, ranging from an unlimited plan that gives a student free run of the dining halls (plus food points and two Meal Plan Express meals a day) to several minimal cost commuter plans offering five lunch meals a week.

One of the biggest successes is the SGA Inflation Fighter (the name emphasizes the approval and cooperation of the Student Government Association in developing the plan), which locks in a set meal plan price for all four years if the student commits in the first year.To make the Inflation Fighter even more attractive, Dietzler augmented the original concept by adding a 185-meal semester block plan meant to appeal to upperclassmen.The Inflation Fighter also offers 12-, 15-, and 20-meal plans so students could move each semester from one to another depending on dining habits.

Fair Trade, a Campus Tradition

Social consciousness and student activism are part of many campuses, but at Villanova, they are part of the institutional mission. One of the initiatives that grew out of this mission has been a growing commitment to Fair Trade principles (for more on Fair Trade, see the October 2004 FM).

Villanova has sold Fair Trade products as an option in its campus retail operations for about eight years, and began serving Fair Trade Certified coffee in all its student dining halls in December 2001. Today, Fair Trade is served in both the dining halls and the retail Holy Grounds coffee shops.

Initially available in only one blend from the school's coffee vendor, Fair Trade was sold without a price increase even though it cost twice as much as standard blends. Dining Services absorbed the higher priced coffee because Dietzler decided the Fair Trade initiative was important to Villanova's institutional mission. When the coffee contract came up for bid again, the school chose Green Mountain Coffee, which offered over two dozen Certified Fair Trade blends, including decaf.

Assistant Dining Director Christine Rittenhouse, whose primary responsibility is purchasing and supplier relations, was instrumental in bringing in Green Mountain. "The challenge has been finding a reliable and high-quality supply of Fair Trade product," she says.

Villanova has contracted with Peet's, a recognizable high-end coffee brand, for its Holy Grounds retail coffee shops. In its other retail locations, it uses Pura Vida Coffee, which works with Catholic Relief Services to help support disadvantaged artisans and farmers around the world.

In addition to coffee, Fair Trade chocolates and teas are sold on campus, and Dining Services is currently looking to begin purchasing Fair Trade bananas and rice products.

The Country's Only Augustinian University

WHERE THE BOYS ATE. At one time, Villanova required its resident students (all male until 1968) to come to the dining hall in coat and tie.

Villanova University was founded in 1842 by priests of the Roman Catholic Order of St. Augustine as both a seminary training future priests and as an academy for boys. It was named for St. Thomas of Villanova, a 16th century Augustinian theologian, educator, and bishop of Valencia, Spain.

Originally emphasizing the liberal arts, Villanova began adding other programs in the 20th century. The College of Nursing and the School of Law both opened in 1953, leading to university status that same year. Although it had admitted limited numbers of women since 1918, Villanova formally became a co-educational institution in 1968.

Today, as the only Augustinian university in the country (there are several colleges), Villanova consists of five colleges: Liberal Arts and Sciences (Villanova College), Engineering, Commerce & Finance, Nursing and the School of Law.

A bold strategic plan promulgated in 1995 set Villanova on its present course. It not only reaffirmed the university'sgrounding in Augustinian principles but set out an ambitious agenda that seeks to place it among America's elite institutions of higher learning. Part of that initiative has been a major capital expansion strategy that has meant new facilities for the Colleges of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Commerce and Finance, a series of striking new student residences and, coming in the next few years, brand new facilities for both the nursing and law schools.

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