What’s keeping C&U operators up at night?

Affordable Care Act and allergens are among FSDs’ major concerns.

Published in FSD Update

Dana Moran, Managing Editor

woman awake

Summer is no idle time for foodservice directors working at colleges and universities: They’re planning for the futures of their programs. Operators in FoodService Director magazine’s 2016 College and University Census reported an average 16,000-plus students at their schools. During a recent summit FSD hosted with a dozen C&U operators, the people behind some of the nation’s top programs told us what’s keeping them up at night. (FSD is sharing their thoughts anonymously to allow their answers to remain as candid as possible.)

More mouths to feed, but not more resources

At a time when FSDs already are struggling to keep up with the volume of students at their operations, administrators may be making the situation even more challenging. One operator shared the story of a new university president who wants to increase enrollment by 5,000 students in 5 years. But the 830 additional students who enrolled during the 2014-2015 academic year meant an additional 250,000 transactions at dining centers that already are overcrowded, the operator said. Plans for a new facility are in motion, but that requires four to eight years from planning to completion, as well as hiring 400-500 new employees in an already tough market.

Another FSD struggling with a similar issue says their administration is making a big push for off-campus meal plans, while also adding 3,000 beds to their campus by 2020. Dining centers that were closed 10 years ago are being re-opened and retrofitted, but that will create a new challenge: drawing students from their favorite dining halls to the “new” ones.

The hidden effects of Obamacare: No student OT

More students and more dining centers means more hours for student workers, right? Not so much. Because they’re not eligible for health insurance, students can’t work more than 25 hours a week at dining halls, one operator says. Previously, about 200 students had worked more than 40 hours a week during the busy first week of school, banking that money for when schedules calm down and hours decrease. But because the Affordable Care Act prohibits this practice, that operator now must hire 30% more employees to do the same work—and has lost some star employees because of the scheduling changes. A second operator added that during the 2014-2015 academic year, half of the shifts sometimes were left unfilled because of this problem.

Students aren’t self-identifying their allergies

Though operators may put forward every opportunity for students to self-identify their allergies—one FSD we spoke with even requires allergy identification as part of the housing process—it’s still a huge problem. College often is a student’s first time away from home, and they don’t want to stand out or don’t know how to keep themselves safe, operators say. One university has found success with pairing self-identified students with an allergy buddy to prevent them from feeling singled out.

But self-identification is just the tip of the iceberg. If a manufacturer changes formulas to include allergens and doesn’t alert the operator, foods that previously were safe suddenly become a hidden danger. Students also are inclined to apply the one-and-done method to foods—if it checks out against their allergens one time, they assume the formula won’t change, one operator says. While another operator employs two full-time interns to check for such changes, manufacturer websites don’t always contain the most up-to-date information.


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