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


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.”


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

Menu Development
recipe revamp chicken soup

As a continuous care retirement community, The Garlands of Barrington in Illinois provides daily foodservice to 270 independent living and skilled nursing care residents, with the majority of sodium restrictions coming from the latter, says Executive Chef Nicola Torres. Instead of cooking two versions of chicken noodle soup—a favorite offered at least twice a week—he reworked his recipe into a flavorful lower-sodium version that appeals to all. “Everybody eats soup, so I created a homemade stock that uses no salt at all, ramping up the flavor with fresh herbs and plenty of vegetables,...

Ideas and Innovation
tray number

We created lucky tray days to help create an experience surrounding our brand. The trays are numbered; we pick a number and the winner receives a free lunch. We’ve enlisted the help of one of our coaches, who calls out the random lucky winner, and it drums up a lot of excitement.

Managing Your Business
line kings girl goat open kitchen

Open kitchen concepts satisfy guests’ curiosity and desire for transparency. But there are some caveats. Here’s how to create a positive experience for both staff and customers when the walls are down.

Train to serve

With the back-of-house up front, everybody gets hospitality training. “Our cooks understand the food and what they’re doing incredibly, but translating that to guests requires [soft] skills that need to be honed,” says Marie Petulla, co-owner of two restaurants in Southern California.

Dress for a mess

At Girl & The Goat in Chicago, chef-owner Stephanie...

Ideas and Innovation
bus advertising jagermeister

Because many locals use the bus system, we paid for some full bus wraps to advertise [job openings within] our dining services program. The buses go all over campus where students can see them, and to apartments where the public can see them. To top it off, the cost wasn’t much more than newspaper rates.

FSD Resources