Read on to see how schools of three different sizes make late-night service work for their operations.
1. Make it a meal
At Nashville’s Vanderbilt, meal plans include a fixed number of meal swipes, as well as flexibility around when to use them—retail store purchases and late-night dining can count as a meal.
The secret: Accept that there will be fewer prepaid but never-used meal swipes—but expect more meal plan buys from more satisfied diners, too. High percentages of Vanderbilt students, including 70% of seniors, buy some sort of meal plan. “I’ve had conversations with directors around the country who like that missed-meal money—it’s their safety net,” Director of Operations Spiros Vergatos says. “I don’t like that missed-meal money. Manage your labor costs and meal costs and be efficient. We sell more meal plans, and we don’t get many complaints.”
2. Charge a la carte
At Boston College, students only pay for what they get, including late at night.
The secret: Only offer items you can sell a lot of. The college uses an advisory committee with representatives from virtually every campus organization, rather than a few vocal students, to help it choose hit-making menu items. “We can’t make it work if we have too many offerings,” says Associate Director of Restaurant Operations Megan O’Neill. “We’ll run something as a test, but if we’re not serving 200 portions of it, it isn’t going to work.”
3. Invest in 24/7 service
Although Lynn University and Sodexo wouldn’t disclose staffing numbers or scale of investment, they acknowledged that round-the-clock foodservice takes a financial commitment on the school’s part.
The secret: Leaders say the admissions office has found that 24/7 dining gives Lynn a competitive advantage: More students choose the school because it helps them feel they’re getting value out of their room and board costs. “It was an investment that Lynn felt was important for our students,” Director of Auxiliary Services Matthew Chaloux says. “We feel the investment was worth it.”