Back to the Future?

Hampden-Sydney College may be a throwback to the heyday of single-sex institutions, but that doesn’t mean it’s not at the forefront of change.

At A Glance: Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia

•Dining hall: Pannill Commons; student population is 1,080; 1,035 meal plan particpants; 800 unlimited meal plan participants

•Stations: Bake Shop, Deli, Mediterranean, Grill, Produce Market and Mongolian Grill

•80 employees

•Average check: $3.52


Hampden-Sydney College in Hampden-Sydney, Va., a selective four-year, independent liberal arts college for men and one of only two remaining all-male colleges in the nation (the other is Wabash College in Indiana), is evolving to better suit its singular population.

FoodService Director - Hampden-Sydney CollegeAmong the changes being implemented by foodservice contractor Aramark Corp. are the introduction of an open-kitchen concept, improved communication via an interactive Web portal, a new unlimited meal plan, greater input from the students, and plans to begin purchasing more local and organic foods.

“We serve a different clientele than many other colleges,” says Ben Koontz, assistant foodservice director, HSC Dining/Aramark Higher Education, which has run the Hampden-Sydney account for 50 years. “About 40% to 50% of the guys are highly athletic, so they’re constantly looking for a lot of high-protein items. One item I always like to point out that we do is a carving line at dinner.”

In fact, Aramark offers such a station, featuring product like top round, pork loin or turkey, at “select accounts,” notes Sherri Flanigan, marketing program manager, HSC Dining/Aramark Higher Education. “It really makes sense at Hampden-Sydney because of the all-male population. We are always looking for more protein items for the guys, as well as healthier options.”

About 80 Aramark employees operate the 500-seat Pannill Commons dining area, a coffee shop, a cash operation called The Tiger Inn, and catering functions. At present, 1,035 of the college’s 1,080 students participate in a board plan.

Open kitchen: A renovation to 17-year-old Settle Hall, the building that houses Pannill Commons, made possible the addition of Aramark’s Marché concept, The Fresh Food Company. The outlet’s servery was completely gutted and re-equipped. The new concept offers exhibition cooking and prep daily at each of the stations—Bake Shop, Deli, Mediterranean, Grill, Produce Market and Mongolian Grill.

“At each station you pretty much have the equipment you need to prepare your entire meal right there,” Koontz explains. The Mongolian Grill station, for instance, includes the traditional large round grill for preparation of anything from stir fries to hamburgers and grilled cheese, as well as a steamer and deep fryer so cooks can prepare egg rolls and steamed vegetables, all in front of the students. Other International cuisines being served on campus include fresh sushi, Caribbean Jerk Chicken, quesadillas, gyros, Asian favorites like Kung Pao Noodle Bowl with chicken, egg rolls, shrimp fried rice, beef and broccoli stir-fry, and So-Sesame Chicken.

FoodService Director - Hampden-Sydney CollegeKoontz points out that Aramark was quick “to head off any of the problems we might have had” by taking staff members to college accounts that were already running the Fresh Food Company program, including Wake Forest University, Virginia Common-wealth University and Clemson. The goal was to give them “a hands-on feel… so that it wasn’t going to be a big deal for them when it happened here. ”

Additional staff training goes along with the action station concept. “We had our national brand manager, Dick Cody, visit the Commons for three weeks,” Koontz recalls. “He worked with all the employees to get them used to a different style of cooking.”

Unlimited plan: At roughly the same time as the debut of the Fresh Food Company concept, Hampden-Sydney’s administration introduced an unlimited all-you-can-eat meal plan, which has proven very popular. According to Flanigan, roughly 800 of the meal plan students have opted for it.

“As long as we’re able to develop a program that serves the students and maintains their satisfaction and overall experience,” Flanigan reflects, “we consider ourselves to be successful. The overwhelming participation” of the unlimited plan makes it clear that “there is buy-in with our renovation and the Fresh Food Company, in addition to satisfaction with the program as a whole. It’s a key indicator for us as a whole that the elements of the program we have designed around this have been successful so far.”

Hangout: The Tiger Inn, a popular student hangout that is a hybrid pub-style restaurant and snack bar, is located on the ground floor of Pannill Commons and overlooks Chalgrove Lake. A large patio provides a venue for dining al fresco. Its menu offers burgers, overstuffed sandwiches and wraps, salads and mixed greens, pastas, pizza and strombolis, all available for dining in or take-out. Students can also call in orders.

A few “minor facelift” changes, such as the addition of flat-screen TVs to give Tiger Inn more of a sports bar atmosphere, are planned.

Research: Hampden-Sydney draws insights from its students in a variety of ways. Aramark’s proprietary Dining Styles survey is conducted online and “actually helps us gauge the satisfaction drivers and motivators,” says Flanigan. The survey is e-mailed to students in the fall and spring. The information gathered is broken down and analyzed, and ultimately helps administrators “better judge what enhancements or changes we need to make.”

Every month or two, Koontz and his management team sit down with the student government in an open forum to discuss their concerns and recommendations. “There is complete buy-in with this program on this campus,” says Flanigan, who conducts still more, less formal research. “I’ll stop and quickly survey people here and there as I pass them on campus. We roll all that up together and review it on a regular basis.”

CampusDISH: A year ago, Aramark introduced CampusDISH, its one-stop dining services Web portal (www.hsc.campusdish.com) featuring information about menus for all on-campus dining locations, nutrition information and links to nutritional resources, special events, promotions and healthy eating options, information about food allergies and cooking healthy. It also allows students, faculty and staff to view meal plans, check account balances, record deposits into accounts, order catering and gift baskets, apply for student employment opportunities, and send feedback regarding campus dining.

“It is an effort to enhance the communication across campus with the students,” Flanigan says. “We are serving ‘Millennials’ who are highly tech savvy. The only way, sometimes, to get to them is by way of technology.”

Clicking on menu items provides nutritional information so that students can “plan their lifestyles and eating habits accordingly,” says Flanigan. The future might see enhancements to the technology such as downloadable audio and video podcasts. “It is something we are looking into to see if it’s a viable option on this particular campus. We want to know whether it’s something they are looking for and would respond to.”

A nutritional kiosk in the dining hall provides students with still more information. The wall-mounted touch-screen monitor is linked to the CampusDISH portal. Says Flanigan, it serves as yet another way of communicating with and educating students about their options and recent changes.

As they have done at other college accounts, Aramark managers at Hampden-Sydney started meeting with local growers at farmers markets for preliminary discussions about how they can source local and organically grown foods. Purchasing from local vendors may begin as early as this fall.