Just as the inhabitants of any ecosystem will find ways to adapt and survive, noncommercial operators are doing whatever it takes to maximize revenue and customer service. In a variety of companies and institutions, that means targeting busy locations for food carts and kiosks, offering grab-and-go convenience and even delivering meals.
“On Cornell’s campus, we have been doing that for years,” says Colleen Wright-Riva, director of dining and retail services at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. “We really have a very expansive retail program with plenty of outlets for students, staff and faculty who don’t want to eat in the larger dining halls.” Dining Services operates 23 permanent kiosks across its 700 acres that offer such items as a full coffee program, grab-and-go sandwiches, smoothies and snacks.
“We offer something like 60 different products, and each of the small kiosks can choose what sells at their location,” notes Wright-Riva. The food for most of the kiosks—about 2,000 sandwiches and salads a day, for instance—is prepared in the university’s central commissary, a practice that has been going on for the past two and a half years.
Operators err when they “say yes to everybody,” says Wright-Riva. “I think that is a big mistake. You really should look at the size of the audience that will come through the space that someone has an interest in you taking over.”
Another mistake, in Wright-Riva’s opinion, is having a menu that is too large. “When you have such a small space you really need to find out what the audience wants, and focus on that and do that very well,” she says. “If you start to offer too much of too many different things, you confuse your audience and you don’t get the kind of traffic you want.”
Platform dining: Chuck Melchiori, vice president of operations for Creative Dining Services, Zeeland, MI, favors exhibition cooking, or platform dining as he calls it, for bringing foodservice out to where the dining public is. “I think that the whole concept has grown from a mindset that asks, ‘How can you take the platform, or the process, or the product and get it closer to the customer?,’” Melchiori explains.
Having the proper infrastructure is crucial, he adds, “whether it be plumbing codes or electrical codes, hot holding units or refrigerated units. If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right.” Thus, operators must look for creative ways to position themselves where the necessary infrastructure is accessible.
“There may be, for example, a certain point in a corridor or in a lobby that is close to a restroom that allows, from a code perspective, for an employee to use the hand sink in the restroom,” Melchiori says.
Care must be taken to see that items sold out of satellite locations won’t cannibalize business from a permanent location. As always, location is pivotal.
“You certainly have to have circulation space,” Melchiori advises, “and you have to have what I call the good-looking tools, the right infrastructure.”
Melchiori says that the “disasters” he has seen have come about when an operator tries to offer too much on a particular platform. On the other hand, the satellite operation also must, for convenience’ sake, have enough of what the customer wants. “The platform environment you create had better be able to provide what I like to call ‘the chips and the pickle,’” he explains. “If you’re going to do a sandwich you’d better make sure it has a side salad, the chips and the pickle. It should all be there.”
Kiosks and people: John Lepore, COO of The Certo Group Corp. in Piscataway, NJ, says he is going “more and more” with kiosks. The contractor was recently awarded the foodservice account at Brooklyn College, and its first step will be to install branded Starbucks kiosks. At another account, St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, FL, coffee kiosks are also on their way.
Certo chefs also find themselves doing “quite a bit” of display cooking. Says Lepore, “We’ll set up a table in the middle of a room and do scallops or fish or something like that. People love that.”
Certo recently placed a kiosk at its account at Lehigh Valley Airport in Allentown, PA. Says Lepore, “I know how much business it is going to do because we have a foodservice operation there. But this will just be coffee and Danish, and maybe ice cream. It’s a quicker operation, that’s for sure.”
When it comes to training, says Lepore, the most important concerns are handling money, handling food and keeping sanitation in mind. If the kiosk is busy enough, then Lepore would have two people manning it. But, he notes, “If it’s just one person, then he’s going to be constantly taking off and putting on gloves.”
Dining Together, Apart
At Ohio State, pizza delivery has brought students together, outside the dining halls.
Ohio State University’s (OSU’s) strategy to “take food to the masses” on its vast campus includes offering pizza, wings and sandwich concepts with delivery service for all residence hall students.
The 40-seat outlet located in the Drake Union is called The PAD (Pizza At Drake), and bills itself as “your retro hang-out spot.” Students can play pool and video games at the outlet. Two swipes of a meal plan card buys a 14-in. pizza and a beverage. Salads and desserts are also available.
Last year, The PAD notched about $1.7 million in sales. On its busiest day, it delivered about 700 pizzas. Its staff of 35 operates five delivery vehicles.
For the past three or four years, students have been asking “on a regular basis” for a pizza restaurant delivery that would accept dining plans, says Thom Stevenson, OSU’s senior director of food and beverage operations.
Part of the reason OSU had never done campus delivery before was that it had always been the administration’s goal to “do everything we can to get students to dine together,” says Stevenson.
What Stevenson and administration have found with PAD has been very interesting, he explains. “Although they are not eating in groups of 100 or 200 or 1000, they are sharing pizza together in groups of fours and sixes,” Stevenson says. “A whole floor will order a pizza, and everyone on it will dine together. So it is serving the need of getting students to socialize, to be with one another. It’s just doing it a different way than what volume food service has always done, which is put them in larger size dining halls.”
Delivery takes about 45 minutes, says Stevenson. The service begins at 11 a.m. and runs until 2 a.m., seven days a week. About 5% of delivered meals go to faculty and staff in several of the academic buildings on campus.