My Southern adventure, the Atlanta version

Published in FSD Update

Visits to the University of Georgia and Cox Communication shows the power of variety.

By 
Paul King, Editor

When CSP Business Media relocated the FoodService Director contingent from New York to Chicago this summer, I was excited. After nearly 30 years of going up and down the East Coast to see foodservice operations, I was looking forward to traveling around the Midwest, visiting colleges, hospitals, schools and the like.

I have made a couple of trips so far, to Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago, and the University of Illinois, 2½ hours south of us, in Champaign, Ill. But my biggest operator trip since the move has not been to a Midwestern city, but a Southern one: Atlanta.

I flew to Atlanta Oct. 8, with the main purpose of the trip to speak to the first class of a unique degree program at Kennesaw State University, northwest of the city. The program is Sustainability in Hospitality, newly created by the university this past spring. I spoke to the class Oct. 10, and I will share my experience with readers in a future blog.

But before my visit to Kennesaw, I spent time at two other operations. On the 8th, I spent the day at the University of Georgia, and on the 9th I got a tour of the three cafeterias in the headquarters complex of Cox Communications, one of the nation’s largest broadband services providers.

I plan to share more details of both of these visits over the next few days, as well as give you a photographic tour of these foodservice programs—along with that of Kennesaw State. But I wanted to pass along something I saw that was common to both the large university—Food Services at UGA feeds more than 30,000 students a day—and the much smaller B&I operation at Cox. At both institutions, one of the keys to success is the idea of variety. But not only meaning a wide variety of options, but varying the operations in such a way as to promote “cross-pollination,” if you will, among the customer base.

At UGA, Associate Vice President of Auxiliary Services Mike Floyd and Executive Director of Food Services Jeanne Fry have worked together to come up with ways to give students a reason to visit each of the dining halls. The most recent example of this was just this past semester, when the university opened a new Health Sciences campus, a couple of miles from the main campus.

On this campus, there is a small foodservice operation called The Niche, open for breakfast and lunch only, five days a week. Floyd and Fry knew that a typical foodservice operation so far removed from the majority of potential customers probably wouldn’t be very successful. So, in addition to making The Niche someplace where most everything on the menu is made to order, they gave the eatery something no other campus facility has: a gelato station.

By offering this unique feature and promoting it, the department hoped to attract students and even faculty to make the short bus ride to The Niche. Once they came for the gelato and saw the facility, they might be persuaded to return to try other menu items. So far, they say, the gimmick has worked well beyond their original hopes.

At Cox, where the three employee cafeterias are in proximity to each other, Ed Riley, general manager for Sodexo, the company’s foodservice provider, has tried a similar tactic to encourage employees to vary their dining habits. One way he has done this is by switching up the menu for In My Kitchen (IMK), one of Sodexo’s newest corporate promotions. Basically, In My Kitchen shares popular menu items from a number of celebrity and Sodexo chefs. (For more on In My Kitchen, look out for the Managing Your Business section in our November issue.)

In each cafeteria, the recipes of different chefs from the promotion will be featured. In one cafeteria on the day I visited, the IMK item was a baked fried chicken wrap from Atlanta’s own Virginia Willis, while in the next dining space IMK featured a chicken pesto entrée from Barton Seaver. One promotion, but multiple possibilities to help drive traffic.

It’s little items like this that make me realize how valuable being able to physically visit foodservice facilities can be for us as journalists. It is much easier to understand concepts when we see them than when someone explains them to us over the telephone, and we are then better able to make them come to life in the pages of the magazine and on our website.

So follow along with me as I recount my experiences on the road, both from this Atlanta trip and from the ones to come in the months that follow. I hope what I see and experience can ultimately give you insights to help you in your jobs.