Boston College “Fly”ing High with New Mini-Marts

Responding to student requests, Dining Services constructs three c-store-like units.

Boston College's On the Fly mini-marts were inspired
by 7-Eleven.

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.—Responding to continued student requests for foodservice outlets akin to a 7-Eleven store, Boston College Dining Services has opened three “mini-marts” that it calls On The Fly. Two of the stores, which opened last semester, are located on the main campus, while the third is in Stuart Hall on the law school campus.

“We’re always looking for new revenue streams,” explains Helen Wechsler, director of dining services. “Students have been asking for some type of c-store. We call ours mini-marts because they sell only food items.”

But the list of foods is extensive. On the Fly sells a variety of beverages, snack foods—there are 60 different varieties of power bars for sale—microwavable entrées, ice cream, and a selection of other grab-and-go items such as yogurts, cheeses and deli meats. Students can pay for items using cash, credit cards or one of several meal plan options, including Residential Dining Bucks, Flex Plan Bucks or Eagle One Account Bucks.

The three On The Fly locations have taken up residence in available space in three separate buildings. In addition to Stuart Hall, On The Fly units can be found on the third floor of McElroy Hall and the second floor of Corcoran Hall. Ranging in size from 440 square feet to 1,100 square feet, the units are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Wechsler says her department had three goals in mind with the design and construction of the units.

“We really focused on items that had done well for us in other locations, while at the same time being able to sell some items we couldn’t before,” she says. “For example, we never had the space before to sell bulk candy. We can also offer [students] things like jars of pasta sauce, peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese dinners and a variety of frozen items.”

In contrast, the other two goals were minimalist, rather than expansive. The mini-marts had to be placed in spaces Dining Services already controlled, so no additional overhead would be incurred, and they had to be staffed without adding managers or student labor. Both goals were accomplished, but not without a little controversy.

In the McElroy space, On The Fly replaced a bulk fruit and yogurt bar. Wechsler figured yogurt bar business would be supplanted by the sale of Chobani yogurt cups.

“But the yogurt bar was very popular; we gave students all sorts of toppings for their yogurt,” she explains. “Some students were not happy with the change.”
Wechsler believes that Dining Services has improved the value of the square footage with the addition of On The Fly, even though she acknowledges that sales are not yet what she would like to see.

“Students are creatures of habit; if they don’t see something they don’t think about it,” Wechsler says, noting that the On The Fly units aren’t necessarily in high-traffic areas. But she’s certain they will catch on, because students want them and because they offer items students need.

“For example, the unit in Corcoran Hall is near where resident students have kitchens, so we’re selling items they can use to prepare their own meals,” Wechsler says.

So far, the most popular items have varied by location, according to Megan O’Neill, assistant director, restaurant operations for Dining Services.

“In one store, where freshmen and sophomores shop, the top sellers are power bars, bottled beverages and Easy Macs,” says O’Neill. “On the Newton campus, where the law students are, ramen noodles are the No. 1 seller. On the lower campus, near where students have kitchens, we sell a lot of brownie mixes, cookie dough, and pasta and sauce.”

She adds that, based on student comment cards, the department adds items every couple of months. The most requested items after the first round of comments? “Eggs, deli meats and 2% milk,” O’Neill says. 

More From FoodService Director

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...

Managing Your Business
hands team

In November, students at University of Missouri in Columbia began leading protests against discrimination faced by people of color on campus—including some marches through the dining halls. Julaine Kiehn, director of the school’s campus dining services, said the 2015-16 school year was a tough one, but she was proud of MU’s students for being at the forefront of a national movement.

And not only did the protests launch important conversations with students, but also with staff. Kiehn heard the protests and thought that her student workers, at least, might not feel safe and welcome...

Ideas and Innovation

When it comes to sustainability, sometimes the smallest kitchen changes can make the biggest difference. When Chris Henning, senior assistant director of dining services for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, switched from standard latex gloves to nitrile gloves, he also set up a recycling program. Once recycled, the gloves are turned into playground equipment, bike racks and park benches.

Henning says the nitrile gloves have been a good fit for his department, both in terms of durability and cost. “Participating in the campus buying program reduces the cost, as [our]...

FSD Resources