Colleges tweaking dining hours to save money

For some, a reduction in dining hall hours is receiving negative student reaction.

Published in FSD C&U Spotlight

By 
Mallory Szczepanski, Digital Production Editor

A number of colleges are adjusting service hours to accommodate student demand while at the same time trimming some costs. Sometimes, however, that reduction in hours is met with student dissatisfaction.

At the beginning of the school year, Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, N.J., cut one hour from dinner service at the four main dining rooms, making the new closing time 8 p.m. 

“We are an auxiliary service and what the state and university doesn’t fund, we have to earn for ourselves,” says Executive Director of Dining Services Joseph Charette. Although dining services’ budget was increased by 2% earlier this year, Charette says that bump wouldn’t cover the increase in the price for utilities and food. Charette didn’t want to sacrifice food quality, so he decided to try cutting back on service hours. 

“We not only cut back on dining room hours, but also on labor costs for the extra stations we would need to have open during dining room service,” he says. “Forty-five percent of students get takeout for dinner from our halls and we were still keeping that option open, just closing the inside of the dining halls.” 

While the move was saving the department money, students weren’t happy and the dining halls returned to their original 9 p.m. closing time after one month. “Students were continuing to eat so close to closing time that we began to realize we weren’t able to close at 8 due to long lines. The difference [from cutting the hours] wasn’t big enough for us to keep the new dining hours in place,” Charette says. “We listened to our students and we are willing to adjust options to pay the bills that have raised.”

Since returning to the original hours, dining hall accounts are up and traffic has increased by 100 to 150 students per dining hall, according to Charette. 

Other universities are also adjusting operating hours to meet student demand while remaining financially stable. 

After receiving student requests for additional hours, Towson University, in Maryland, expanded dining hours three years ago at Newell Dining Hall during busy times and cut hours during slow periods to equal out the costs. Dining services also expanded hours in retail locations to 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. 

Towson also has taken athletic schedules into consideration and has worked with practice times to accommodate athletes getting out of late practices.

“It helps increase meal plan participation if students are happy with what they are getting,” says Director of Dining Services Roy Cubbler. “Students will spend money because you are open the hours they want you to be open.”

Towson isn’t the only college expanding hours. The State University of New York at Oswego (SUNY Oswego) extended service at Cooper Dining Hall to 8 p.m. and extended the lunch hour at Lakeside Dining Hall to 1:30 p.m. SUNY Oswego has five dining centers, four of which are open seven days a week and two that operate full lunch until 3 p.m. Students requested a longer lunch hour at Lakeside Dining Hall, so dining services added a Lite Bite option until 3 p.m., which features a full salad bar, fresh fruit, bakery items, ice cream, hot soup, grains (bagels/cereal), and hot and cold beverages.

“We changed our hours due to customer preferences and people asking for longer serving hours in the afternoon,” says Director of Campus Dining Services Craig Traub. “Students would love for us to be open 24/7 and we love to hear that.”

Even though SUNY Oswego increased hours in a few areas, it ended its late-night dining option on Fridays and Saturdays at Littlepage Dining Hall due to limited demand. “We have four large dining halls and a fifth small unit,” Traub says. “There are plenty of dining options for students from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., so I don’t really see it as us cutting hours since we have added hours in other areas.”

California State University Stanislaus also took the route of cutting dining hours from 3 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 3 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays.

“We kept track of our POS readings and found out that it wasn’t worth it to be open the extra half hour or hour,” says Director of Dining Services with Chartwells Scott Smith. “There wasn’t much reaction from the students besides some pushback this year due to time changes for classes.”

Cal State Stanislaus increased the staffing at some halls to accommodate the new class schedule for students and to help speed up lines during busy times. The university also offers late-night dining services at Warrior Grill and its c-store Monday through Friday. Dining services is also thinking of adding mobile food trucks. 

“The hardest part about food trucks is finding one that has a reliable POS system and qualifies with the state university insurance standards,” Smith says.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Foodservice operators and other employers in New York City are adjusting to a new law that enforces paid time off for staff who have been the victims of certain crimes.

Called paid safe leave, the benefit is believed to be among the first of its kind in the nation. A more limited version has been in effect in Minneapolis since last summer.

The New York law applies to employees who have been the victims of actual or threatened domestic violence, unwanted sexual contact, stalking or human trafficking.

Workers can also opt for safe paid leave if a member of their...

Industry News & Opinion

A Massachusetts bill to end lunch shaming has been stalled in the House, reports South Coast Today.

The House chair of the Education Committee voted on Tuesday for further study of the bill, which would prevent schools from throwing away hot lunches and/or serving an alternative meal to students behind on lunch payments. Under the bill, schools would also be unable to bar students with unpaid balances from participating in extracurricular activities.

Additionally, the bill asks schools to take action in reducing families’ meal debt by helping families apply for free or...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of California, Santa Cruz is converting its Cowell Coffee Shop into a “multi-service basic needs cafe” to aid students facing food insecurity .

The new cafe is being created through a partnership with dining services, the school’s center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems and UCSC’s Cowell College. Due to open at the start of the fall semester, the lower part of the cafe will continue to be a study space for students (with free coffee and tea) and will also host nutrition and financial wellness programming.

Upstairs, the kitchen will be used as a...

Managing Your Business
quitting job

What prompts foodservice managers to clean out their offices and head out with a last paycheck? A new survey suggests the triggers may be changing with the times.

The canvass of 2,000 restaurant professionals, conducted by placement firm Gecko Hospitality, shows lifestyle issues abounding among the top 10 reasons for parting with a restaurant employer last year.

Here are the gender-specific lists:

Top 10 reasons female managers leave

1. Better opportunity

2. Unemployed

3. Relocation

4. Not satisfied

5. No growth

6. Long...

FSD Resources

Code for Asynchronous jQuery Munchkin Tracking Code