Five Questions for: Tim Dietzler

FoodService Director - Five Questions for Tim DietzlerFSD spoke to Tim Dietzler, director of dining at 6,400-student
Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., about the importance of
e-marketing. Dietzler speaks about how employing several of these new
techniques can help get dining services messages out. 

How have you integrated e-marketing into your marketing plan?

Whenever possible we use the Internet, in addition to printed ads and messages, to help us connect with our students and campus community. Newswires have taken over the role of direct e-mails as the university has taken action to reduce the amount of spam going to student inboxes. We submit our ads to be included on the daily campus newswire, so now 50 departments can be linked in one e-mail instead of the students receiving 50 separate ones. These were very effective at first, but now a lot of the students just hit delete when they see the daily newswire. So we are working on some new strategies. Our Web site offers online comment cards, which are very popular with students. We try to respond within 24 hours. If you are consistent and they see a response and a correction, the use of this feedback card increases. We also use text messaging to let students know about special events and dining news. This service is voluntary and we have approximately 1,000 students on the service.

Which e-marketing techniques have proven most successful and why do you think that is?

Viral marketing is our most effective technique. Students with cell phones will text message and phone friends when they come across a special event they didn't know about and/or when they find a food item they love. The word of mouth/text spreads like a virus. I met with a student group last week that told me they have a text message chain for when we serve tomato soup. They love it so much that they use the Internet and technology to communicate when we have tomato soup. If you can get students to push your message through their personal channels of communication, you are going to see great results.  Last week at our student town hall meeting, one of the students used Facebook and invited more than 400 students to the meeting.  We can't accomplish this or bring in these types of results without engaging students. The most successful e-marketing technique is good old-fashioned table visits where we are meeting and greeting students. By asking students "what is the best way to communicate dining news to you?" we find out that if we sent out a newswire with a the headline “Tomato Soup now being served in the Belle Air Terrace,” they will come running.

What was the most challenging aspect of implementing your e-marketing?

The biggest challenge is being consistent in a rapidly changing environment and bringing it all together. Everything changes so quickly, but if you can stay consistent, you can build credibility and a following. Developing a fun logo is a big challenge that we have not yet met. Boston College has done an excellent job of this with their "Feed Your Mind" campaign.

What kind of promotions have you run through e-marketing? (coupons, etc)

Last year, we gave away a free meal plan to a random student. By using our e-marketing we were able to get students to sign up for a plan before they left for the summer.  We also have run reduced-price coupons at our c-stores and video store. Smoothie discounts in the Energy Zone and Holy Grounds have also been effective.

What advice would you give other operators looking to increase their e-marketing?

Get started. E-marketing is cost effective. In the college and university market, we don’t have a traditional captive audience. I can't say we are all that savvy of all the different e-marketing techniques you could use to connect with customers. Our approach has been to incorporate all mediums to connect with our students—the school newspaper, table tents, napkin holder ads, oversized posters, newswires, the Web site and our student employees to communicate and push for that magic of viral marketing.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

As part of a 10-year contract to run Eastern Michigan University’s foodservice, Chartwells will invest $5 million in the Ypsilanti, Mich., university, as well as provide it with $18 million in capital improvements, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press .

The university’s board of regents approved the contract on Tuesday, citing the new revenue as an opportunity to expand and improve campus foodservice. EMU’s website indicates the partnership will allow for more student input as well as the introduction of food trucks and improved technology.

“The primary reason...

Industry News & Opinion

Students at the University of Virginia will soon be able to use part of their meal plans to buy fresh food grown locally, the result of a new partnership between the school and Greens to Grounds, a nonprofit organization run by students.

Starting in the fall, students will be able to use their meal plan “Plus Dollars” to purchase premade food boxes from Greens to Grounds. The boxes, which come in “snack” or “produce” options, contain a variety of vegetables and fruits with a different weekly menu. The packages typically cost no more than $10, and students will be able to place box...

Industry News & Opinion

The USDA analyzed the efficacy of using Medicaid data to certify students for free or reduced-price lunch, a provision included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Participating states and districts reported conflicting data on changes in the percentage of students certified, number of meals served, federal reimbursements and certification costs.

The method is used as an alternative to household applications and data matching with other public benefit programs to streamline the certification of more low-income students. The program was first piloted statewide in Kentucky...

Ideas and Innovation
kids students cafeteria line

While summer feeding programs are commonplace in school districts across the country, foodservice operators still struggle to get the word out and kids in.

Many districts are scaling back or discontinuing their summer feeding programs due to low participation, citing staffing costs and other issues that make it difficult to break even and provide a profitable program.

“We need to find a way to encourage that participation,” Tom Freitas—foodservice director for Traverse City Area Public Schools in Traverse City, Mich.—told Record Eagle News . “We are open to ideas as long as...

FSD Resources