Tim Dietzler: Future Minded

By Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Tim Dietzler can see the future, or so his staff believes. As director of Dining Services for Villanova University in Pennsylvania, Dietzler’s willingness to embrace and implement trends, such as increased variety, healthy and culinary-based menu development and environmental initiatives, helps to satisfy the university’s 10,000 students. Since becoming director in 2002, Dietzler has worked to generate business at the variety of dining options available—three all-you-can-eat dining halls, two c-stores and 13 retail operations—by increasing the number of meal plan options to a point where now, he admits, there may be too many.

“When I started in 1987, there were only three meal plan options, students were assigned to a dining hall and the dining halls closed at 6:30 p.m.,” Dietzler says. “Now students can eat wherever they choose, and we have dining halls that are open until 2 a.m. We now offer 14 different meal plans, including an unlimited plan, where students can access the three all-you-can-eat dining halls multiple times a day, and an Inflation Fighter plan, which locks in a price for four years, but still allows for flexibility as the student progresses in school.” The plans are organized into three tiers, which has six plans in the top tier, three in the middle tier and five in the lower tier. About 85% of students are now on one of the six top-tier meal plans, Dietzler adds. The addition of these plans has been instrumental in generating $5 million more annual revenue for the department—bringing the total to $23.5 million—since Dietzler became director.

Forward thinker: Dietzler’s commitment to be at the forefront of trends has led him to set some of his own.  was one of the first universities to tackle the trans fat problem, but Dietzler took the program beyond government requirements by eliminating all partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) from his products—the government allows items that contain small amounts of PHOs to be labeled “trans fat-free.”

“We wanted to get students to read nutrition labels,” Dietzler says. “So we said that every item in our c-stores was free of PHOs and we challenged students to find a product that had them in both stores. We said we’d give them $50 in food points if they found something. We ended up giving away $1,800. They found  PHOs in items that we didn’t think of, such as antiperspirant. A biology student found it, and although it’s not a food item, he argued that the skin absorbs it and therefore it ‘feeds’ the skin, so we gave him his prize. I believe students appreciate us moving in that direction.”

Villanova Dining Services Other healthful steps Dietzler has taken include adding an organic salad bar, putting vegetable dishes front and center by placing them at the beginning of service lines, and developing vegetable items before entrées—all in the hope of getting students to choose more vegetables and start to see them as a main dish rather than as a side.

Dietzler’s prediction for the next big foodservice movement is probiotic foods—foods that contain beneficial bacteria. “Everything I’m reading tells me that probiotic foods are a growing trend,” Dietzler says. “You’ve seen a little bit of it in the yogurt industry. We’re seeing products that contain the healthy bacteria, which go into your digestive tract to help your immune system and digestion. On a personal note, probiotics is an area I’m very interested in.”

Christine Rittenhouse, assistant director, says it is Dietzler’s commitment to these kinds of efforts that makes him successful.

“Tim is the heartbeat of this department. I’ve been impressed with his efforts to eliminate trans fats,” Rittenhouse says. “It wasn’t just the higher standard that Tim set for us that impressed me the most. It was  that Tim felt it was the right thing to do for the health and nutrition of our students, faculty and staff.”

Dietzler’s knowledge on upcoming trends makes his colleagues believe he has a sixth sense about foodservice.

“He can see the future,” says Executive Chef Paul Jensen. “He stays current with his colleagues so he can predict what we’re going to have to do to be successful.”

New concepts: Dietzler has been making a difference since before he became director. In 1998, when he was associate director, the School of Business wanted to open a new eatery, so Dietzler took a group of 18 foodservice managers and employees to New York City to tour the New York Stock Exchange and the rest of the Financial District. From that trip, The Exchange café was born, complete with scrolling menu boards similar to the moving screens found on the NYSE trading floor.

“The Exchange has been very successful,” Dietzler says. “It was designed so customers would come in and feel that the food was being freshly prepared for them. We measure the concept’s success by the fact that whenever the business school puts together marketing materials, the marketing always features The Exchange.”

Another concept Dietzler developed is Holy Grounds. Holy Grounds, created in 1997, is a four-unit fair trade coffee concept that brings in annual revenue of more than $1 million. Holy Grounds serves Peet’s Coffee, as well as sandwiches and salads, and the concept has been so successful that two more locations are planned, one for Fall 2008 and the other in Fall 2009. Executive Chef Jensen thinks these concepts’ success speak to Dietzler’s ability to carry out his vision to an end.

“I’ve seen how his vision for the department has grown and how he’s able to relay that vision to everyone else in the department,” Jensen says. “He sets goals and meets them, but he also recognizes when his goals need to be modified.”

Environmentally eager: Dietzler, who says Villanova has been committed to environmental programs since the 1950s, recently embraced that philosophy in several ways, most recently by switching to compostable packaging in two of his dining locations.

“We needed to implement a program that would reduce the amount of disposable packaging,” Dietzler says. “This year, we introduced compostable products—everything from the straws to the trash can liners. We’ve also been encouraging the use of reusable plastic cups and plates for those students who choose to eat in—about 82%—even though the location is set up as grab-and-go.” Prior to the switch, Dietzler says, the location used to dispose of 180 bags of trash per day; now they collect only 40 bags of waste per day, all of which are compostable. His department is still figuring out the logistics of implementing the switch in other dining locations, but  they’ve gotten great feedback from the faculty and students.

“Sales in that location have increased because students know the department is doing the compostable program, so they’re eating in that facility more often,” Dietzler says. “The increase in sales is a by-product that we didn’t anticipate.” Other efforts include a commitment to serve only sustainable seafood and donating over-produced items to a food re-distributor.

Local boy: Dietzler, who grew up in nearby Drexel Hill, Pa., is the third generation of Dietzler men to work for Villanova. His father, Charles, worked at Villanova for 34 years in the financial affairs office as a comptroller and his grandfather had worked in Villanova’s library.

“I liked Villanova very much and I grew up following the basketball team,” Dietzler says. “I went to an Augustinian high school, which was what they would call a feeder school to Villanova. Plus, I’m one of nine children so it was a great benefit to our family for me to attend Villanova—since my Dad worked there we were able to get a deal on tuition.”

At 16, he got his start in foodservice working at a neighborhood grocery/butcher store. He stocked shelves, bagged groceries, made deliveries and waited on customers. While attending Villanova, for a degree in accounting, he worked at a local golf club as a waiter, host and maître d’. After graduation, Dietzler worked in casual dining restaurants for Pillsbury’s restaurant division. Dietzler started in Villanova’s foodservice in 1987 as an entry-level manager. He worked his way up through management positions before becoming director in 2002, a role that Rick Sieber, executive director for auxiliary services, says suits him well.

“One of the things I appreciate  most  about Tim is that he is forward thinking. He’s always trying to move dining services ahead,” says Sieber. “He’s never satisfied with what we’ve accomplished. He is tireless and pays attention to detail. Those are things you look for in a great manager.”