Dave Prentkowski: Keeping Notre Dame Growth On-Track

Slow and steady wins the race, folks say. Well, it has certainly been a winning formula for Dave Prentkowski, winner of the Silver Plate-Higher Education and foodservice director at the University of (Ind.) Notre Dame, which has within the past seven to eight years, doubled its retail sales, doubled its catering sales, and increased off-campus-student purchases of board contracts by 20%.

At A Glance: Dave Prentkowski
•Foodservice Director
•University of Notre Dame, Indiana
•In foodservice since he was 16
•Meal volume: 25,000 daily
•No. of facilities: 24+ sites
•Foodservice Sales: $37 million annually
•Staff he oversees: 55 managers, 300 full-time regular staff and 1,000 to 4,000 part-timers

FoodService Director - Dave Prentkowski - Silver Plate - Notre DameSlow and steady wins the race, folks say. Well, it has certainly been a winning formula for the dining services department of the University of (Ind.) Notre Dame, which has within the past seven to eight years, doubled its retail sales, doubled its catering sales, and increased off-campus-student purchases of board contracts by 20%.

Resident board plans may be static,  mostly because the population is held static by the university year to year, and having full occupancy each year, there is no room for growth. But rest assured, customer satisfaction, as determined through surveys, reveals an increasingly happy clientele there, as well.

Notre Dame’s dining services operation serves about 25,000 meals daily, generating about $37 million annually. The venues include two residence halls that serve literally thousands of students daily; five restaurants; a convenience store; 12 retail outlets; vending; catering; concessions for athletic areas; and services provided for the student health center, a childcare center, two religious residences, a seminary and a nursing home.

The department is run by about 55 managers overseeing 300 full-time regular staff and a pool of part-timers that grows to as large as 4,000 people and only dips to a low of about 1,000 during off-peak times of the year. The campus features a mix of franchise or commercially branded concepts and house brands, including the c-store, a 24-hour day restaurant, and UND’s own Mexican concept, Buen Provecho. There are about 7,500 students on meal plans.

“We’ve done some significant strategic planning for the department that took a lot of years to actually implement,” says David Prentkowski, the university’s foodservice director.

Central production: An outgrowth of those years of strategizing and a major contributor to the success of the university’s foodservices operation is its central food production facility. It opened six years ago and effectively solved many of the problems presented in running an operation of this scope. The facility combined the production and support for both retail and board dining under one roof. The department made this critical move when faced with the challenge of serving customers who were looking to the university to provide on-trend foodservices, without having the luxury of more space to accommodate the growing demands.

“It allowed us to become more efficient in our production, because we are utilizing more modern equipment and technology,” Prentkowski explains. “We are performing in a more streamlined fashion, and it also allowed us to remove some functions from the main dining halls on campus and open up some square footage to expand the menu and variety of food that we offer.”

Moving prep space from the dining hall to the central facility made room for dining services to create a food market boasting several stations including pizza, pasta, deli, soup, stir fry, grill, carving, Mexican, salad and dessert. It also made display cooking and cook-to-order stations possible.

Prentkowski says the success of the central food facility is also demonstrated in the way it seemed to breed an entrepreneurial mindset in the staff. Employees found opportunities to be more efficient and add more value to menus and the units. “The staff has been a tremendous asset to the operation,” he asserts. For example, the staff brought bagel production in-house, saving the department money while providing customers with a higher-quality product.

Evidence of success is also found in customer satisfaction and sales, he reports. Dining services does Web-based random surveys that have revealed, he says, that students are indeed happy with the services provided.

Strategic placement: Prentkowski’s approach to determining how to best meet customers’ needs  has been calculated and deliberate—what he calls a market-oriented approach. The campus is divided by market, and he develops and places concepts according to customer base and activity in that particular locale. The department uses research to understand the market demands and match the best types of food outlets for that demographic.

“Our volume has increased because we’ve placed restaurants in locations that make it convenient for people and we’ve put together menu offerings that people want to buy,” says Prentkowski. “We have so many different operations on campus that we have to be careful not to over-saturate. We look at things individually by restaurant but we also look at things   campus-wide to make sure there is a variety of good choices for customers.”

Looking forward, Prentkowski is hoping to obtain the funding to renovate and modernize one of the two dining halls. The renovation will be no easy feat, as it seats 2,000 and serves hundreds of meals daily. “It’ll be expensive to turn that ship,” says Prentkowski.

He also stands ready to tweak whatever else needs adjusting as time goes on to ensure that he keeps customers on-campus during meal times.

“It’s a matter of continuously evaluating our locations and menus, especially as the campus changes and buildings are added, offices are moved and populations are moved,” he says. “We have to grow with the campus.”

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