Asked and Answered with Mark Finney

To Finney: When will E&H get a Taco Bell (and other Caf-related questions)?

This week I’m responding to several questions about the cafeteria. I interviewed Sam Walker, General Manager of E&H Dining Services. Though the principle question has to do with bringing a national franchise to the campus, Walker and I had a wide-ranging conversation about dining, Sodexo, the college’s food-service provider, and small-campus life.MF: What are your goals for dining services?

MF: What are your goals for dining services?

SW: We want to have the best college dining services in the country. Is that a legitimate goal? Probably not, but at the same time we want to run the best program that we can. A lot of it comes down to size: We can’t compare ourselves to Liberty or VT or UVA because they’re able to have more venues, more options. Everybody talks about options. One of the options we do have is Macados. That’s huge for a school this size. That gives you four different venues that you can choose from for lunch. That’s pretty good. Where I’ve been in the past, renovations and dining expansions were tied to campus growth. Here our enrollment has been flat, but we’ve done

Where I’ve been in the past, renovations and dining expansions were tied to campus growth. Here our enrollment has been flat, but we’ve done expansion in the last few years to provide a better dining experience. There’s now another venue that is open all day: Stingers. Stingers is open afternoons and evenings, alongside Hometown and Simply to Go. Business is ok. It isn’t what we were hoping, but it added values to what we’re doing for the students. Plus it is a national brand – Starbucks. We always tell

We always tell staff at orientation in August, realize where you’re working, we wear Sodexo uniforms but we are a part of the E&H community and we’re here for the students. Good, bad or other, we need to hear what’s going on.Ninety percent of what we do is people, 10 percent is food.

Ninety percent of what we do is people, 10 percent is food.

MF: What kind of numbers were you hoping for with Stingers?

SW: Basically we’re losing money weekly: the man-hours to run it. Sales recently have picked up, which is nice. We needed to make $1,000 per week to break even. The first two weeks of February were pretty good.

Stingers opened in October at Homecoming, we’ve used it several times with Admissions – it works really well with prospective students. Which is a good thing. We haven’t promoted it to the general public because it is campus oriented.

MF: What kind of feedback do you hear from students?

SW: Students complain about repetitive menus, more mashed potatoes, can we have breakfast at dinner, can we have strawberry jelly instead of grape jelly. They’re all over the board, but everything is usually constructive. We try to be proactive with the responses.

And it’s hard because they eat in the same place every day. It’s going to get old, it’s going to get repetitive, which is why we have swipe plus events like Chef Fair, with a dj and a fun house; there’s the Ampersand event in April, with a beer garden and vendors – because you want to make it an experience. We have our day-to-day routine but the experience is what it’s all about.

On our menus we’ll promote changes via the screens that are available in Van Dyke. Some things are on our Facebook page. We get more and more responses on our Facebook page. One thing that’s wonderful about the size of our school is that we have managers and staff who have more interaction with students than anybody else does. We’re seeing them 5, 6, 7 times a week. We always have an open door policy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s why we’re here.

MF: So, will E&H ever get a Taco Bell?

SW: This summer will be five years since World of Wings (WOW) has been here. Taco Bell and other franchises like that have a pro forma that you have to demonstrate before they’ll bring in a national brand. They have an expectation of student size, and it would also mean getting rid of WOW. If it were any national brand, that would have to be taken into consideration.

MF: It’s a much higher enrollment threshold than what we could sustain, right?

SW: With Chick-Fil-A, it’s 10,000 students. I don’t know what Taco Bell would want, my gut says they’d want a larger campus than what we have.

MF: How will the campus growth effect dining services

SW: There hasn’t been any conversation about an additional venue. VanDyke can handle several turnovers during a meal session.

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