Randy Lait: The business of hospitality

Randy Lait has transformed dining at North Carolina State University by leading the development and construction of 16 new campus dining units.

At a Glance

  • 34,000 enrollment
  • $34 million foodservice budget
  • 32,000 meals served daily
  • 600 foodservice employees
  • 9,100 students on meal plan

Accomplishments

Randy Lait has transformed dining at North Carolina State University by:

  • Leading the development and construction of 16 new campus dining units
  • Applying business acumen to hospitality services in order to increase program efficiencies and improve the department’s bottom line
  • Overhauling the menu management system to ensure accurate ingredient and nutrition data from recipe development to point of sale
  • Hiring culinary, nutrition and recipe development staff to elevate the campus dining experience

When you’ve been an employee at the same place for more than 30 years, you’re bound to see a lot of change. You leave an impact on the workplace when you are the driving force behind those changes. Such is the case with Randy Lait at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. In his 30 years with the university, Lait has reorganized the department, transformed retail dining and cut costs while increasing services.

Though he planned to study computer programming, Lait worked his way up the department’s ranks from student employee to dining unit manager and eventually to business manager, discovering the ins and outs as he went. “The foodservice thing just came about as they needed somebody to work and I needed a job,” Lait explains. “I switched my major to economics and I ended up getting two degrees, one in economics and one in business management. And I kept working with dining and then they had a job opening when I finished [school] and I was fortunate enough to be selected for that.”

The retirement of both his boss and his boss’s boss, after each put in their own 30-plus years, opened the door for Lait to step into the director’s role. With that step came reorganization of the department, first on an administrative level with the establishment of a new auxiliary services division and then with the rejuvenation of the hospitality services department. “There was an ambitious new plan to develop new foodservice and to remodel existing foodservice and to really shake things up,” Lait explains. “So it was a great opportunity to take a department and also have a semi-blank canvas for the new operation.”

Transformation

While Lait felt that he had acquired a number of business skills that would be beneficial to successfully lead the department, “I also felt like I lacked some things,” he admits. “I lacked the true culinary skill and that food knowledge to take things to the next level.” But he knew that you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, so he set out to hire people who could fill those gaps. “I knew we wanted to have better food [and a] better customer experience for our campus, so [I] took a group of people who were very hard-working, dedicated people and added to them new folks who were more culinary minded and really started to change how we planned these new operations.”

“Randy’s basically a businessman,” explains Lisa Eberhart, R.D., dietitian for university dining. “He looks at it from a very business [perspective]: are we going to make money, are we going to serve the students, how’s this going to work for us. He really realized that when he took over, ‘OK, I’m a businessman, but I don’t really know food that well,’ and so he’s tried to surround himself with people who knew food, which has been really nice because we’re all really similar in our focus of wanting NC State to be the best.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Amherst-Pelham Regional School District in Amherst, Mass., is updating its lunch debt policy to no longer single out students, MassLive reports.

Under the new policy, students with lunch debt will be given the same meals as their peers, regardless of how much they owe. School officials will also be communicating directly with parents of students who have accumulated debt instead of through the students themselves.

The updated policy comes just before U.S. school districts will be required to publicly list their lunch debt policies, per new USDA requirements starting July 1...

Menu Development
eureka

Since California’s state motto is “Eureka!” it seems fitting that a recent conversation with the director of hospitality at San Diego’s Palomar Health led to the biggest aha moment I’ve had in a long time.

I called Jim Metzger in late April with the purpose of discussing Palomar’s recent commitment to the goal of making 60% of its total menu plant-based by this summer. It seemed a lofty number, and I was curious how the public health system planned to get there.

But my personal eureka didn’t come while we were talking about how Palomar had cleaned up the impulse-buy zones...

Industry News & Opinion

Labeling foods with indulgent buzzwords such as “sweet sizzlin’” and “crispy” can lead consumers to make healthier food choices , according to a recent study out of Stanford University .

In the fall 2016 study, researchers labeled vegetables in one of the school’s dining halls using terms from four categories: basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive or indulgent.

The green beans, for example, were listed as “green beans” for basic, “light ‘n’ low-carb green beans and shallots” for healthy restrictive, “healthy energy boosting green beans and shallots” for healthy...

Ideas and Innovation
sparkling water

Our carbonated soft drink sales at Earls.67 reflect a national trend; we’re continually down on carbonated soft drink sales by 8% to 9% on an annual basis,” says Cameron Bogue, beverage director at the contemporary-casual chain Earls Kitchen + Bar.

The issue with spa water

Many operators are intrigued with the offering, but they are learning that infused water can’t be offered at a cost to guests unless there is added value beyond cut-up fruit. Bogue says, “I was adamant that I didn’t want to charge for spa water.”

Agua fresca alternatives

At the original location of

...

FSD Resources