Magical memories of college dining

Dana Moran, Managing Editor

disneyland sleeping beauty castle

At the close of the 2015 National Association of College & University Food Services conference, I was thrilled to discover that the 2016 event would be held in Anaheim, Calif. Not because I’m a West Coast native, though I’m always thrilled to be back in my home time zone. Not because it affords me a great opportunity to work on my tan (um, I mean, stay out of the sun—stop reading these, mom). But because Anaheim = Disneyland.

The magic of Disneyland is a tightly orchestrated marvel of planning, funding and passion for the brand that translates into the pure joy of suspended reality for its guests. The amount of effort that goes into making it all look so effortless is fascinating. So, a session at this year’s NACUFS conference with Gary Maggetti, Disney’s director of experience integration, and Michele Gendreau, general manager of Disney California Adventure food and beverage and store operations, felt like Genie from “Aladdin” was being tricked into granting one of his no-no wishes.

The logistical decisions behind some of Disney’s most successful foodservice were plentiful, but everything rooted back to three objectives: enhance the guest experience, drive intent to return and intent to recommend, and create magical memories. “Though we are humble enough to realize food and beverage isn’t the reason you’re coming to Disneyland, it’s an incredibly critical part of the experience,” Maggetti says. Such is the case with much of college and university foodservice: Students are there for the experience.

Much of my diet as an undergrad at Syracuse University consisted of grilled cheese, chicken nuggets and sad apples. But when I look back, that same dining team worked hard to make some magical memories. Two male friends serenaded my “very single” girlfriends and me with Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” during karaoke night at the dining hall. Meals at the fancy faculty dining center made us feel like we were on a business lunch. Family dinners after Sunday newspaper staff meetings were guaranteed to leave our faces aching with laughter.

While I can’t believe how far college food itself has come since I graduated in 2007, I’m glad to see operators are still focusing on the full picture of creating those magical memories. You can read about how operators are connecting with students’ sense of nostalgia to organize throwback-theme dining events. Members of our Chefs’ Council share how they’re integrating the thrill of football season into their menus and marketing.

It may not be the boxed mac ‘n cheese that diners remember, but they’ll certainly hold on to the special feeling that was created. That feeling is something you can’t fake, and it just might support that other Disneyland objective: intent to return and recommend.

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