The Big Idea 2013: Grab-N-Go

Turning a facility into grab-and-go concept helps satisfy demand.

Published in FSD C&U Spotlight

Charlie Thompson
Director of Dining Services
Amherst College
Amherst, Mass.

We decided to do a two-week trial last October of a grab-and-go program, named Grab-N-Go. It was very informal. We had comment cards out asking students whether they felt this had a negative or positive effect on their schedules.

Over the years, we had heard from many students who said they would miss lunch because they didn’t have time to go to a dining hall after coming out of classes or sports. The trial was hugely successful.

Coming out of the trial period, one of the things we took away from the comments was that the program should be located in the Keefe Campus Center because it was more centralized. The problem was then deciding where in Keefe’s we should go, since we already had an operation, Schwemm’s Café, in that facility.

My manager came up with the idea of shutting down the daylight hours that Schwemm’s is usually in operation, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and turning that time into a Grab-N-Go.

We began operating Grab-N-Go on a regular basis this past spring semester, utilizing the existing staff that’s there so people’s jobs are secure. We extended Grab-N-Go from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. because we saw that a lot of classes were letting out just before 2 p.m., and students were running like crazy to get to the dining hall, which can be very stressful.

What the extra half-hour of the Grab-N-Go being open has accomplished was reduce enough of the customer counts in the dining hall at lunch so that lines are now much shorter.

Ultimately we found that the number of students who stopped going to the dining hall in favor of Grab-N-Go was less than our original projections, because students who may have not eaten lunch at Valentine dining hall in the past because they did not have the time started going when they saw the reduced lines. So Grab-N-Go not only provided a service to those who were finding it hard to take the time out to eat at the dining hall, but it allowed for a much more pleasurable dining experience for those who continued to come to the dining hall.

We did, however, get a little bit of pushback at first from customers who were used to going to Schwemm’s during the day. Grab-N-Go needed to be shut down by 2:30 p.m. in order to begin cleanup in preparation for the start of dinner service at Schwemm’s. It left us with a gap between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., where Schwemm’s was closed, the Grab-N-Go was not available and the dining hall was not yet open for dinner. We have a café in our library, called Frost Café, but it only serves pastries and beverages. So what we did to help fill the time gap was to start providing some of those sandwiches and salads that were being crafted for Grab-N-Go and make them available at Frost for purchase in the afternoon.

As we become more efficient, we will be able to reopen the Schwemm’s evening program a little earlier, so that will continue to have a positive effect on those folks who felt that they were forced to go elsewhere for something to eat in the mid to late afternoon.

Another thing that has helped students and staff with the transition has been the quality of food they can find at Grab-N-Go. They saw that this was a very nice program, and it wasn’t just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a can of soda. It’s really upscale sandwiches on artisan breads, with salmon entrées and salads. We priced appropriately so it wouldn’t cost the non-student customer more and actually lowered the pricing structure a bit under what customers would have had to pay if they had gone to the original Schwemm’s.

Overall, I think the program has been very well received. By the sheer numbers, we were anticipating we’d see roughly 500 people a day, but on average, at Grab-N-Go we see about 600 to 650, and have over 800 customers several times. 

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
rooster illustration

Sustainability is such a priority for Santa Rosa Junior College’s culinary arts program that produce often doesn’t even hit the cooler before becoming a meal. Students quickly transform the bounty of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and more, harvested from the college’s own farm, into restaurant-quality dishes at the Culinary Cafe and Bakery. They learn the basics of agriculture, practice pivoting a menu based on seasonality, and compost as they cook.

It’s little wonder the program recently placed first in the CAFE/Kendall College Green Awards: This Northern California community...

Managing Your Business
alumni worker

It’s a sure sign that a school is doing something right when its students want to come back and work as adults. From the standpoint of the foodservice director, though, there is plenty to gain from retaining homegrown talent—call it the ultimate return on investment. In the wake of back-to-school season, two dining programs with a robust alumni contingent share their thoughts on hiring former customers.

Local expertise

At Georgia Southern University, about one-third of Eagle Dining Services’ 107 full-time employees are alumni. “They way we do things on our campus may be very...

Managing Your Business
business ladder climbing illustration

Recruiting talent is only half the battle for Mike Folino, associate director of nutrition services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Once he’s attracted good employees, providing clear opportunities for advancement can help retain them—but knowing when to bring up the topic in conversation can be tricky.

Prior to hiring

Folino likes to touch on advancement during the initial interview process, but the extent to which he does so changes case by case. “I have had interviews where we knew right away that we needed to discuss our structure and...

Ideas and Innovation
woman surprise

When I joined the staff at FoodService Director in the spring of 2015, I couldn’t believe how much there was to learn about the intricacies of the industry. My past experience, from kindergarten to my college days to on-the-job meals, would lead me to believe that noncommercial dining was a kind of automated process—an amenity that’s expected, and one you only become aware of if something goes wrong.

But as with my own household chores, there are no magical elves making sure the business of feeding students, seniors and hospital patients is done, and done well. Foodservice...

FSD Resources