News Date: 
Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Source: Southeast Food Service News

Value and variety are the driving forces behind the food service operations at the University of Georgia in Athens. Executive director J. Michael Floyd (left) says making students happy keeps participation in the voluntary program high. There are innovative menus, on-trend themes, and special events like the popular “Taste of Home” program, in which students’ parents submit recipes that may find their way onto menus.

By Liisa Sullivan

While other universities across the country are outsourcing food service programs to organizations like Aramark and Sodexo, the University of Georgia in Athens has been holding its own for 206 years. How do they do it? J. Michael Floyd, executive director of food services, says that it comes down to two Vs - value and variety.

“These are the two most important components of our food service program,” Floyd said. “You have to give customers value and variety; it’s what keeps them coming back time and again. We excite them with food choices, service, accessibility, decor, and events. We like to spice things up for people; it’s important in life.”

And, apparently, these philosophies are working.

It all started in 1972, Floyd explained, when they decided to step out of the mold. “When other universities across the country were making meals plans mandatory, we decided to make them voluntary - we were in the five-percentile at the time.”

Floyd attributes a large part of their success to this voluntary structure. It keeps them on their toes and puts the customer at the center of all that they do; they have a serious investment at stake.

“Everything we do has to do with getting that student (customer) to choose to go with a meal plan,” he said.

Two Plans - Four Choices

Currently, there are two meal plans to choose from:

7-day, unlimited food and access: $1,896; and

5-day (weekends excluded), unlimited food and access: $1,795.

The seven-day is the most popular - 85 percent of students are enrolled.

Currently, Floyd likes to say that 125 percent of its students are enrolled in the meal plan program. How does he figure? Well, there’s 100-percent participation from the on-campus student body, and about 25 percent of off-campus students participate, too.

Out of curiosity, Floyd polled a few off-campus students to find out why they decided to purchase the plan. He said that social time was the most important and dinner was the most popular meal to attend.

“While many students like the idea of their off-campus privacy, they do miss some of the social aspects that our various dining venues can accommodate,” he explained. There are four dining venues to choose from:

Bolton - the largest of the four, it’s conveniently located near many residence halls and is known for its beautiful salad bar and diverse serving lines, including the Arch Oven, Breakfast in a Flash, and the Eating Smart Line, which features low sodium, low fat foods.

Oglethorpe - this venue offers items like burritos at O’Casa Wraps, specialty coffees at Joe at the O, stir fry and salad at the Oriental Trading Market, and the return of a perennial student favorite, Chicken Country Unlimited. Seven-day meal plan participants enjoy the Saturday evening “Premium Entree” (usually grilled steak, ribs or a shellfish entree) as well as the sumptuous and beautifully presented Sunday Buffet.

Snelling - this provides top-notch dining choices at its signature stations - Giorgio’s Pizza, Sanford Grill and its made-to-order omelet station.

The Village Summit at Joe Frank Harris Commons - This choice offers a spectacular view of east campus. Specialty stations at The Summit focus on made-to-order items: pizza at Giorgio’s & Co., omelets at Egg Works, sandwiches at Upper East Side Deli, and Blue Steel Grill.

Special Events Abound

Every three to four weeks, a special event is scheduled. They range from grilling extravaganzas to five-star suppers. For example, Firehouse Favorites is a day where they fire up the grills and feature recipes served in firehouses across the country. The Social Network dinner celebrates the progression of social media by implementing technology and having students socializing in real time. “Taste of Home” is a very popular event where chefs prepare menus featuring recipes sent in by students’ families.

Each year for this event, parents are asked to submit their student’s favorite recipe, and every year they receive hundreds from all over the country. A number of recipes are selected to be served during the “Taste of Home” dinner, and some remain on the menu rotation in the dining commons. This event has been an annual tradition since 1987, and more than 3,000 recipes have been featured. Each year the management staff and culinary team select approximately 140 recipes to be served during the event. Parents who submit a recipe receive two complimentary meal passes that can be used during their next campus visit. Parents whose recipes were featured receive a commemorative University of Georgia Food Services “Taste of Home” dinner plate as well as a production recipe showing the transformation of their recipe into an industrial recipe of 8,600 servings. After the event, a selected group of recipes are chosen to remain on the rotational menu.

“One proud mom is on plate number eight,” Floyd said. “I think she’s going for a record.”

And, while it would seem that with all this going on, there would be no time for outside events - there are. They often cater former student weddings on campus and host other campus-related events.

“We do not have any outside involvement with retail restaurants in the community or outside catering; we have plenty to keep us busy right here. We are constantly examining what we do, and how we do it.”

Green Efforts

Finally, UGA Food Services takes environmental sustainability very seriously and advocates the concepts of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in all campus food services operations. It has also earned LEED-certification (Gold) from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Fast Facts:

People served per day - 30,000 was the highest (meal plan and retail)

Net annual revenue: $40 million

Employees: 1,000 (full-time, part-time and student employees)

Students on meal plan: 8,600

National awards received: 75

To learn more about this innovative food service program, visit foodservice.uga.edu.