It’s a sure sign that a school is doing something right when its students want to come back and work as adults. From the standpoint of the foodservice director, though, there is plenty to gain from retaining homegrown talent—call it the ultimate return on investment. In the wake of back-to-school season, two dining programs with a robust alumni contingent share their thoughts on hiring former customers.
At Georgia Southern University, about one-third of Eagle Dining Services’ 107 full-time employees are alumni. “They way we do things on our campus may be very different than a setting somewhere else … someone familiar with campus rules, campus policy from a business standpoint, I think those are huge advantages,” says Jeff Yawn, executive director of dining services and an alumnus. “They’re also invested in the local community.”
At University of Alabama, 12 alumni have joined the Bama Dining management team in recent years, including Cory Hardesty, a location manager who graduated in 2013 and was hired in 2014. “I do feel like I had a leg up because I was familiar with the class schedule [including] where things are and resources that we are able to reach out to for assistance,” he says.
Alumni employees such as Hardesty are a valuable link to student life, says A.J. DeFalco, district manager of Bama Dining. “There’s nothing like having insight from former students on the day-to-day functioning of life and how Bama Dining impacted them,” he says.
Positive effect on others
“I think there’s a level of passion they have for the university that is somewhat contagious,” says Yawn of his alumni employees. This positivity not only influences fellow staff members, but also students and prospective students.
For a contract foodservice operator, hiring alumni also can have a positive effect on the relationship between the provider and the client, says Bruce McVeigh, general manager for Bama Dining, which is run by Aramark. “Finding positions within our ranks for [the university’s] alumni builds a strong relationship on campus,” he says.
Bama Dining does market itself differently to prospective alumni, DeFalco says, in part through Aramark’s Accelerate to Leadership Program. Executive leaders visit the campus to speak with prospective grads of the hospitality and tourism program to provide information about noncommercial foodservice and shepherd interested candidates into the interview process. “It’s really enabled us to go after the best and brightest … and give them insight as to future growth and career development with Bama Dining,” DeFalco says.
While Yawn says he doesn’t have statistics to show that alumni hires are more likely to stick around, he sees how that could play out in theory. “For so many, the reason they come back or stay is because they just like the environment,” he says.
One inherent flaw to hiring alumni is their lack of experience at other schools. “Sometimes, when you’re not exposed to other environments, you just don’t have the understanding of how other entities work,” Yawn says. With the goal of assembling a diverse team in mind, hiring alumni is just one piece of the puzzle. “It’s important to have diversity … and one of the ways [to do that] is having people that come from different places and backgrounds and experiences,” he says.