Five Questions for: Rich Maha
College campuses are hotbeds for the flu and other diseases. With such close quarters, the spread of illness can be crippling, which is why many colleges have started offering meal delivery for sick students. Rich Maha, director of Dining Services at 12,100-student Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., spoke to FSD about how they implemented flu meals for their student customers.
How did the idea to offer delivered flu meals come about?
It’s actually been a really good partnership between the university and us. The school came to us because they were planning on having to deal with the H1N1 flu. So they wanted to know what foodservice could do for sick students. If we have these students who are essentially isolated in their rooms, we don’t want them coming out. So I worked with our chef and nutritionist to develop four different flu meal menus—regular, BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce and tea), liquid and clear liquid—and we implemented the program late last year.
How does your flu meal delivery system work?
If a student is sick enough to miss class, they need to check into health services. When they let health services know they’re going to be out, health services shares with them our number and how the flu meals work. The information is also available online. So the student calls the number and places their order. They have to call three hours before the meal period so, for example, if they want lunch, they need to call us by 9a.m. We don’t set a specific time when their meal will be delivered; we just give them a window, such as lunch will be delivered between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. We take down their order and we also take down their ID number because it goes against their dining plan. We have a delivery person that takes it their room, knocks on the door, sets it down and leaves. It’s a set menu that rotates. So every Monday is this, every Tuesday is that. They can call three times a day, seven days a week.
What do the different menus consist of?
For breakfast, the regular menu might be cold cereal, whole fruit, a bagel and cream cheese and hot tea. The liquid diet might be hot oatmeal, a banana smoothie and hot tea. The clear liquid diet would be apple juice and Jell-O. The lunches range so if you’re ordering off the regular menu, it might be turkey breast sandwich with potato salad and whole fruit, a bottle of water or Gatorade, or it could be a vegetable frittata and fruit salad. The BRAT diet consists of rice, toast and a bottle of water, and the liquid will be some kind of broth. Regular dinner could be beef lasagna or chicken Marsala. BRAT is the same rice: toast and bananas, the liquid is going to be some kind of smoothie, and maybe a beef broth and clear liquid would be like a chicken broth, grape juice, Jell-O and hot tea. The regular menu we still try to make as bland as possible. We didn’t want the service to become where the students would think, ‘oh I’ll just call and have a meal delivered.’ The idea wasn’t that it was room service. The idea was if you are sick and you can’t leave your room, you can still eat.
What were the challenges involved with setting up the system?
Our main thing was figuring out the logistics of it. How’s it going to work? Who are they going to call? We didn’t want to miss anyone, yet a lot of my units aren’t open late. First the orders go through our catering department. When catering leaves, we transfer orders over to our pizza concept, which is open later. They take the orders down and then give them to catering the next day. It’s a pretty easy process. We already have delivery on campus because of pizza so it can work easily into that process at night and then at breakfast and lunch, catering takes care of it.
What advice would you give to other operators looking to implement something similar?
The thing that worked well for us is that the service is for residents only and most of them are on a meal plan. They’re not required to be on a plan but the service works best if they are on a meal plan. Because someone could call but how would they pay for it? So this way, when they place their order they just give their ID number. It’s pretty seamless.