University dining programs live and die by student feedback. At 30,000-student University of Iowa in Iowa City, Greg Black, director of university dining, uses surveys to discover what is on students’ minds. He spoke to FSD about how his department crafts and uses surveys.
Many colleges use surveys to gain customer feedback. What does your department do to differentiate your surveys and make sure students participate?
We try to make them short and to the point and usually offer some type of incentive for participating. We’ve drawn names from the participants for a variety of prizes such as credits to their flex dollar accounts or an iPod. I think some people try to gather too much information at one time or over-analyze the data. Before making decisions based on survey results, it is important to determine the size and scope of the respondents and ask yourself just how representative these responses are of the entire student population or targeted market.
What are some of the challenges involved in actually crafting the survey?
We have a fairly involved administrative structure that all surveys must be run through. This requires extra time to make sure we are taking enough time to plan appropriately, which can be challenging. Relating to questions, I think it’s important to keep them short and to the point. It is so easy to ask follow up questions in surveys, which just prompts even more questions, so keep it simple!
What are some examples where you've gotten feedback from the survey and you've been able to translate that feedback into reality?
We’ve heard from students about issues of organics and other sustainability measures such as trayless dining. From feedback we’ve extended our hours of operation, and it has also inspired menu changes. Organics is one where we tried it and then the students changed their minds. When we presented the costs associated with offering organic foods, the students’ response was that it wasn’t worth the costs. The students are supportive of the concept, but they are not willing to pay for it yet. We will introduce organics where it makes financial sense to do so.
What are some of the most helpful questions you've asked on a survey?
We ask them to rate their level of satisfaction from one to five, relating to any number of issues such as additional meal plan options, longer serving hours, more nutritional information or more healthy food options. We also ask them to rate the level of importance that they feel on a number of issues. Another helpful questions was, “What is one thing would you like to see added or change within dining?” I think you need to determine in advance the specific purpose or desired outcome of the survey. Then, keep it simple.
What are some of the items on this year's survey that you are going to look into making happen in the next few months?
Students were asking for to-go options, but currently we really don’t have the space to set up a separate grab-and-go area, so we set up “On the Go” as an alternative for those students who simply can’t make it to either of our contract dining facilities. “On the Go” allows students to order to-go meals ahead of time and pick them up. While we work with a set menu, we will customize an “On the Go” meal to meet the individual requests of our students.