Summer Conferences Heat Up at SDSU

As the school year winds down, college and university foodservice operators are gearing up for summer conference season. At San Diego State University, this summer marks the first time the Dining Services department has been the manager of the conference schedule, says Paul Melchior, director of dining services.

San Diego State, summer conferences“Traditionally we just served the meals,” Melchior says. “Housing had turnover in its conference manager position and was not excited about continuing the program. We did not want to lose the food business from Conference Services, so we arranged to lead the program and rent the required sleeping rooms from Housing. Now we are involved in every aspect from arranging meeting space and equipment to meals and room nights.”

Melchior says his department treats summer conferences more like catering than its day-to-day dining service during the school year.

“We have a down period of about three to four weeks where most of our academic year employees leave,” Melchior says. “Summer conferences are more a series of events rather than normal day-to-day business. [Conferences are] not like opening for business and waiting for customers to come or not. We know they are coming.”

San Diego State, summer conferencesMelchior says the department is in the process of recruiting someone for the conference manager position. In the meantime the department has been working with M.L. Taylor, a consultant for Conference Services, who says the university welcomes about 68,000 students and adults during the summer. The types of groups vary, but Melchior says one group that the department has had some fun with is a group of about 4,000 Catholic youths who come for three days.

“[They come for] two nights, three days and five consecutive meals,” Melchior says. “One cool thing we did with them was we brought in a trailer smoker and did smoked tri-tip with all the fixings. They ate in an outdoor amphitheater in the middle of campus.”

Taylor says this summer the department is gearing up for a group of 200 youths who are planning many special events that Dining Services will help them with.

“One event is a Sports Day that is meant to challenge them all in different ways to prove that ‘they can do anything!’” Taylor says. “They will be able to try everything from water aerobics to rock climbing and Zumba. We are putting on a barbecue dinner for them and providing energy-boosting snacks such as fruit bars.”

Melchior says one of the biggest challenges with summer conferences is getting the various university entities to collaborate on their conference needs. The conferences bring in about $1.6 million in revenue for the department, so Melchior says it is important to communicate the value of the conference season has.

“Summer conferences are all about building and maintaining relationships between campus entities, conference groups and Housing,” Melchior says. “The campus needs to understand the overall value of summer conference business to the entire community. This is tough because each entity usually only sees its part of the business. Our goal is inform all entities of the collective value to the campus. I send a weekly report to my boss, which she shares at high-level campus meetings involving Business and Financial Affairs, Athletics, Housing, Associated Students, Facilities, Parking and Academic Affairs—all the departments that benefit from Conference Services on campus. I also believe that service is required to meet expectations, but exceeding expectations requires hospitality. We work with all the different entities carefully. It takes a lot of relationship building. The important thing to remember with conferences is to keep your sense of humor and give hospitality, not just service.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
lettuce eat dining

Forced to battle crumbling infrastructure and a constant churn of trends, sometimes the best way to save a foodservice operation is to change it entirely. As Steve Mangan, director of dining at the University of Michigan, puts it, “At some point when your building starts to fail, the cost of maintenance stands out.” But for operators with limited budgets, the challenge is discerning the right time to do so—and how far to take it.

At Jefferson High School, change came because little worked anymore. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, school’s cafeteria hadn’t been updated since 1957; students...

Managing Your Business
farmer produce

The seeds of farm-to-table 2.0 have officially blown into noncommercial foodservice. Since the movement has caught the attention of the segment during the past decade, operators have broadened agricultural collaborations outside of just supply. As a result, a new strain of the movement has been created that treats farms as allies in events, training and innovative growing systems.

The 500-bed Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J., didn’t start out sourcing produce from local farms; instead, it administered its own growing programs, including an on-site garden and honeybee apiary...

Ideas and Innovation
fsd screenshot web

A full year has passed since we redesigned FoodService Director magazine, taking the publication from its longtime tabloid dimensions to a more convenient size and more creative design, and recasting the content to provide actionable, peer-to-peer insights and ideas for FSDs.

Now we are thrilled to announce that we’ve extended the makeover to our website as well. The new FoodServiceDirector.com has been redesigned to be more engaging and even easier to use. We’ve made it faster to find information, from recipes to HR best practices, that will help you run your facility better....

Managing Your Business
wage feud business

As plans to increase the minimum wage surge ahead in states such as New York and California, operators eventually will feel the reverberations shake up labor costs for more than just hourly workers. As associate wages gain on manager salaries, operators will have to answer a call for reciprocal increases. FSD spoke with operators who advised going gently into the brave new world of heightened labor costs, investing in talent and making cuts elsewhere; however, they did offer three perfectly proactive tactics to make the process as seamless as possible.

1. Keep talking

Even though...

FSD Resources