Name: University of New Hampshire Hospitality Services
WITH PANASH – UNH's first foray into late-night food service is open until 1:00 a.m. every night.
RANGE OF DINING OPTIONS: (l.) Hungry UNH students can choose selections from the "brickoven" serve-yourself pizza station in Holloway Commons or go the the MUB Food Court (r.), where branded stations like The Sandwich Exchange offer a variety of cash meal options.
DARK WOOD AND CHANDELIERS. The former Huddleston Dining Hall now provides a scenic space for formal catered events.
In the view of some naysayers, the new continuous-service, all-you-care-to-eat board dining model adopted by Universityof New Hampshire a year and a half ago should have been a disaster in at least two ways. First, as a cost nightmare, with students gobbling up unlimited offerings literally from morning til night. And on the PR front, some warned it would spawn an obesity crisis making the legendary Freshman Fifteen seem like a couple extra ounces of baby fat.
Wrong! On both counts, says UNH Hospitality Services Executive Director David May, who oversaw the implementation of the novel system, along with a host of other structural and physical improvements-that have put the Durham campus on everyone's Buzz List in the college foodservice world.
"It was the best thing we could have done," May asserts. "It eliminated the disgruntled who claim they get ripped off when they don't use up all their meals or feel they don't get the value they pay for."
As for providing an endless feeding trough that compels students to overeat, May says that in actuality "students don't come in here any more than they used to when we had more traditional meal plans. What they do have is the comfort of knowing they can come as often as they want and only take as much as they want."
As a result, he says, both food waste and food cost have dropped.
"Over half the student population is participating in the dining program even if they live off campus. We think this really speaks to the quality of the program."
The unlimited meal plan model was implemented at the same time UNH dining opened its crown jewel, the Holloway Commons, a 70,000-sq.ft. building that includes a dining hall with 800 seats and a cybercafe outlet called "with Panache" that is UNH's first foray into late-night foodservice (it's open until 1 a.m. every night).
"Holloway was built to meet two major needs on campus-increase dining capacity and contemporize foodservice for a growing campus," May comments.
Building the Meal Plan Base
Currently, the 13,000-student campus includes some 4,800 mandatory board customers, mostly freshman and sophomores who live in on-campus residence halls. But UNH Dining counts about 7,200 individuals on meal plans, meaning that about 2,400 purchase them voluntarily.
For that, May cites not only the unlimited dining option but also a revamped off-campus meal plan that offers maximum flexibility in choosing between block plans and the department's Dining Dollars cash debit program, or any combination of the two. (Previously, the plans were combined in a series of set options.)
Almost 1,900 students have signed up for the block plans and some 5,200 for the unlimited dining plan, meaning, May notes proudly, that "over half of the student population is very actively participating in the dining program even if they live off campus. We think this really speaks to the quality of the program."
Midway through the current academic year, the Dining Dollars program had rung up some $920,000 in cash sales and another $225,000 in the Cat's Cache debit program, which can be used both in dining locations and in other campus facilities like the bookstore, laundry and copy center.
UNH has also sold over 200 faculty meal plans this year, generating revenues of $10,000 a month. May also cites the College of Liberal Arts' " Holloway Initiative," which encourages faculty to eat with students. "It's been a fantastic success," he says. "It's not unusual to see a large crowd of community members on a Friday night having dinner together."
Altogether, UNH dining is headed for almost $20 million in sales, which must cover food, labor, utility costs and the debt service on the new facility.
"We are charged with being a high-quality provider at a low cost," May says. "Because New Hampshire is ranked low in state funding support, the university has had to be entrepreneurial, including its dining program, which is a self-funded facility."
Return of an Alum
Dave May is himself a UNH graduate, earning his hospitality management degree from the university in 1978. He worked in both the higher education and healthcare segments before an opportunity to return to his alma mater presented itself when the former director retired in 1997.
The UNH May returned to hadn't changed much, at least in its campus dining aspects, since he left almost 20 years earlier. Three traditional board dining halls still dispensed traditional "dorm food" mostly from steam table serving lines. The main cash operation was a food court managed by an outside contractor that had to be subsidized by the university.
"In my first two years, we spent a lot of time improving our merchandising and presentation," May says. "I saw a great opportunity to build the business."
May's first major project was the renovation of Stillings Dining Hall, one of the three board dining outlets. "It was the classic ' barbell' with seating on both sides and a straightline servery in the center," May recalls.
The renovation, done in the summer of 2000 in conjunction with Thomas Ricca Associates (now Ricca-Newmark Design) and CMK Architects, transformed Stillings into a modern marketplace-style servery.
"We did a complete gut rehab in 88 days, but when we opened it we immediately increased our counts from about 1,200 to around 1,800 for dinner," May says. The extra diners came primarily from Huddleston Dining Hall, the campus's oldest, which was closed the following year (the building now houses a catering and conference facility).
Meanwhile, May turned his attention to the Memorial Union Building (MUB), the student union retail operation that was outsourced and losing money, a main reason the previous director wanted no part of it. But May says he was convinced he could turn it into a successful retail operation with the right changes.
"It just wasn't very contemporary," he says. May convinced the university to let his department take over the MUB food operations, and he then revamped its approach by emphasizing fresh-prepared dishes. He also implemented a transfer option that allowed board participants to eat in the MUB until a new dining hall to replace the antiquated Huddleston (i.e., Holloway Commons) could come on line.
"I wanted to turn the MUB into a full all-cash-and-debit retail environment, but until Holloway opened it had to function as a kind of dining hall to help with the volume. So the meal plan temporarily had equivalency in the MUB, but when Holloway opened, we took that away," May says.
Today, the MUB has six branded stations, ranging from national names like Taco Bell, Jump and Godfather's Pizza to in-house brands like the Sandwich Exchange, Biggies and the Eatery as well as a full salad bar and soup station. The operation no longer needs a subsidy and generates $1.2 million in annual sales.
It is also much more successful in serving the needs of its commuter student and faculty/staff customer base. "In the four years between when Huddleston closed and Holloway opened, the MUB was overrun by meal plan holders, which really inconvenienced the cash customers and influenced the menu mix," May says. "Now, it provides what it was intended to provide: high-quality options for a wide variety of customers ranging from non-traditional students and commuters to university staff and visitors."
A Brand New Dining Approach
The Stillings and MUB renovations were a good start in revitalizing campus dining, but May had bigger things in mind, including a brand new dining hall to replace Huddleston. It took four years, but when Holloway Commons, designed by Livermore Edwards & Associates, opened in the fall of 2003 it was everything May had envisioned. In fact, it was even more, since the continuous service unlimited meal plan introduced at the same time was not part of the original plan. It was something advocated by Porter Consulting Worldwide, who May had hired to help overhaul the meal program.
"I first dismissed the idea when they suggested it," May admits, "but after thinking about it I decided we should really investigate it, and I'm glad we did."
Under the system, all three dining halls open at 7:15 a.m. each day and stay open until 7:30 p.m. (Philbrook and Stillings) or 9:30 (Holloway). "So you can come in any time you want for a soda or a pizza or ice cream," May says. "It's like eating at home."
Another benefit: parents really like the idea since it does away with the traditional difficulties surrounding managing meal plans.
Meanwhile, it's boosted weekly participation, which was one of May's major goals.
"Before, meal plan participation was around 55 percent of meals taken in a typical week," he says. "We saw it as critical to get that up to 70 percent because that shows you are satisfying the customer dining needs and ensuring that they see themselves as receiving the value they pay for."
Now, May notes proudly that "we have largely achieved that."
As sanguine as May is now about the continuous service model coupled with unlimited access, he says there were some anxieties early on. "We were apprehensive about the financials going into the program," he admits. "After all, we had just assumed $2 million in annual debt service-for Holloway."
Meal plan cost increases will not be a major factor in paying off that debt in the future. Over the past four years,increases have averaged about six percent.
"We worked with the student leadership so that they understood where we were going" with the continuous service meal plan, May says. "Now, we're looking at modest, almost inflation-based increases in the near future."
UNH Dining works with the fee oversight committee of the student senate, which makes budget recommendations to the president. May says he's proud of the relationships he's managed to build with students, not easy given the traditional mistrust students have for administrators.
"When I came here I set out to build relationships with all of the internal constituencies," May says. "I looked for ways to say 'yes' to the service needs they expressed, and by and large I found this was a very good strategy. I was able to build a lot of buy-in goodwill and build the business. That's why I was hired: essentially to treat this operation like a business and build it up to its potential."
His next project: a $3.7 million facelift of Philbrook this summer.
"We'll contemporize the foodservice and prepare for the growth of the campus's 'Area 3,' where the university plans to add approximately 600 beds in the future," May says. "Other than cosmetic upgrades, Philbrook really hasn't been renovated since the late 1960s when it was first built" (it was UNH's newest dining hall until the debut of Holloway).
Another aspect of campus foodservice that May has been busy enhancing is catering, which was practically nonexistant when he took over. It has in the interim grown at around a $100,000 per year clip and currently stands at annual revenues of around $800,000. May believes that will accelerate because "the new conference space in Holloway has been discovered by the campus and local community."
Separately, The New England Center features a full-service restaurant, 115-room hotel and conference center that generates about six million dollars a year in sales from hosting meetings for clients like BAE Systems, United Parcel Service and Raytheon Corp..
"Companies will come up here with trainers and 25 to 45 students and spend a couple of weeks," says May, who also serves as general manager of the hotel and conference center business. "We have a sales team to develop this business further. It holds its own right now, but in a few years when some of the debt is paid off, we have plans to turn some of the revenue to some new enhancements that we think can improve what it has to offer to potential clients."
One advantage May enjoys by being at UNH is the school's strong hospitality program. The students must complete 240 hours in May's operations as part of their practicum.
"It helps keep the student worker population up and gives them real experience," May says. "We have an excellent working relationship with them. Right now we have four juniors and seniors working as interns at the conference center to develop an online training program for the waitstaff, along with other projects."
It's all part of a synergistic relationship May says he sees among the university, its students, its programs and the hospitality services department.
"I look at my business with the idea that dining is one of the top five drivers for selecting a college or staying at a college," he offers. "Our students are here for the academics, but both they and their parents are also looking at the quality of life they will experience over their four years here. And we feel dining is a very major component of that
SOUP TO NUTS... (l. to r.) The grab-and-go deli/coffee bar at the Philbrook Cafe, fresh fruit display in Holloway Commons and the packaged goods grab-and-go and bakery outlets in the MUB Coffee Office retail area
What's on the Menu
Here's what is on the Holloway Commons dinner menu on a typical day:
the Platinum Plan ($1,777/semester) includes eight guest passes and 500 "Dining Dollars" (see below);
the Gold Plan ($1,577) includes six guest passes and 250 Dining dollars;
the Silver Plan ($1,377) includes four guest passes
Off-Campus Meal Plans offer block plan dining hall meals and Dining Dollars exclusively or in various combinations. The block plans range from a 150-meal option for $795 ($5.30/meal) to 50 meals for $380 ($7.60/meal)
Dining Dollars is a debit payment system that offers users an up-front bonus of up to 20 percent in purchasing power (depending on the amount purchased) at any campus retail dining outlet. The account balance is carried on a student's photo ID card, which is swiped when a purchase is made.
Another debit-type option is the Cat's Cache program, which can be used not only at campus dining outlets (including the residence dining halls where meal prices range from $6 for breakfast to $10 for dinner) but at other campus service outlets like the laundry, bookstore and copy center, and at selected off-campus retail establishments. The value is carried right on their ID card.
The three board dining outlets are:
Holloway Commons opened in 2003 as part of a brand new complex. It features eight serving stations that emphasize fresh ingredients prepared to order in front of customers. They include a pizza station with a brick oven, a stir-fry station, a grill, a Euro kitchen where customers can actively interact with the chefs and the Sizzling Salad Bar where any salad can be topped with a sauteed protein of the customer's choice. Hours: 7:15 am-9:30 pm ( MF), 9 am-9:30 pm (Sat.-Sun.).
Stillings Marketplace, extensively renovated in 2000 from a traditional straight-line servery model, now emphasizes comfort fare, with specialties such as eggs to order in the morning,"Paws Pizza,""Pasta Pasta" and deli sandwiches at lunch, and stations like Home Cookin', Vegan Bar and Granite Grille at dinner. Hours: 7:15 am-7:30 pm (M-Th.), 7:15 am-1:30 pm (F), closed weekends.
Anna's Place at Philbrook is scheduled to undergo an extensive renovation this summer to turn it into a marketplace-style eatery similar to Stillings. It has been traditionally noted for its efforts to accommodate vegetarian and vegan students, offering samplings and taste testings each month. Hours: 7:15 am-7:30 pm (M-Th.), 7:15 am-1:30 pm (F), 4:30 pm-7:30 pm (Sun.), closed Saturdays.
The retail operations include
The Memorial Union Building (MUB) Food Court, which includes a Taco Bell, a Godfather's Pizza, The Sandwich Exchange, Jump (Asian cuisine), the Eatery (vegetarian wraps made to order), Biggies (grill/pasta) and a salad bar, all emphasizing quick made-to-order selections. Hours: 10 am-9 pm (M-Th.), 10 am-3 pm (F), closed weekends.
With Panache is the university's newest dining outlet and the first to offer a late-night option. Combining a bakery cafe with a coffee house, it offers specialty sandwiches on fresh baked breads, entrèe salads and a specialty drink menu through its coffee bar component. Hours: 7:30 am-1 am (M-F), 11 am-1 am (Sat.-Sun.).
Wildcatessen combines a convenience retailing operation with grab-and-go packaged snacks, frozen novelties, beverages and personal care items, and a cash foodservice operation featuring "Catzone" calzones, the signature "Wild Cheese Steak Bomb," a full line of breakfast sandwiches and even Godfathers Pizza selections. Hours: 7 am-11 pm (M-Th.), 7 am-2 pm (F), 11 am-7 pm (Sat.), 11 am-11 pm (Sun.).
Philbrook Cafè combines a variety of packaged snack and beverage options, a coffee bar, a grill featuring open-faced sandwiches, a deli and a grab-and-go outlet with packaged salads and sandwiches—and even Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream! Hours: 7 am-11 pm (M-Th.), 7 am-2 pm (F), 11 am-11 pm (Sun.), closed Saturdays.
The Oak Room is an upscale dining facility for faculty, staff and guests that offers soups, salads, deli selections, beverages and desserts as well as a buffet feature with freshly prepared meat and vegetarian entrees and sides. It also offers meeting catering services when the dining room is closed. Hours: 11 am-1:30 pm (M-F), closed weekends.
The MUB Coffee Office is a small convenience retailing nook inside the Memorial Union Building that carries packaged snacks, sundries, breakfast items, fresh baked pretzels, smoothies, coffee, frozen yogurt sundaes and even locally made sushi. Hours: 7:30 am-5 pm (M-F), with the c-store segment open until 9 pm on those days. Closed weekends.