News Date: 
Sunday, November 19, 2006

Source: On-Campus Hospitality Magazine

November 2006

As part of a series of renovations that began in 1998, the University of Georgia recently opened the $1.5-million Oglethorpe Dining Commons - a facility designed with the school's new demographics in mind.

"What we're seeing here at the University of Georgia is a gender ratio is changing, our female ratio is increasing each year," said J. Michael Floyd, director of food services at 2 university. "This year our gender ratio is 62-percent female, so one of the things we wanted to do, because we are totally voluntary meal-plan program, was to make sure that are constantly putting out new food options for our customers that are attractive to them, as far as something that they want to purchase. Every time we do a renovation we are adding new concepts to the mix."

He continued, "And of course, one of our goals was again put some things into our menu structure that are going to attract more and more of our female customers, since we are increasing our gender ratio there."

Floyd said that an important factor in the renovation is that meal-plan facilities are unlimited access, with continuous service all day long. "One of our goals has been to create an atmosphere in our dining commons that they are an all-day gathering place," he said. “By making our facilities wireless find that not only do our students come in for their meals, they use our dining commons as their gathering place; that's where the meet their friends, they come in and they study, they bring their laptops.”

The Joe at the 0' coffee shop was also added to encourage students to make this their meeting place. "Most of our meal-facilities have coffee choices in their program, so what wanted to do was take the whole specialty coffee-shop concept — like a Starbucks — and put it within the meal-plan construct, where our customers are not paying anything extra for that service," said Floyd. "The other side of that is they do have to drink the beverage within the building. We do not provide paper cups to take it out. So it is a service that they can only use within the dining center itself. By doing that, the dining room in that unit is full all day long."

The concept has achieved its goal. "We've actually tripled the meal counts in that facility over the last year," said Floyd. “I’ll go in there at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and there will be tables of kids sitting around drinking coffee."

He added, "What we did was put it away from the serving line, off to the other side of the dining room. Our goal was it to have the appearance of a coffee shop you would see is shopping mall. And we took a lot of great compliments on the coffee shop."

In addition to Joe at the O', the commons features the Oriental Trading Market, O' Casa Wraps, Oodles & More, Hole in the Wall Grill, Stacks, Chicken Country Unlimited and Scoops & Slices.

"What our philosophy is, is that we do not want our menu structure in all four of our dining commons to be identical said Floyd.”They do serve the same standard menus, what I, call the traditional cafeteria menus. Then once you get away from that, every unit has specialty items that are only provided there."

Floyd said that the Oriental Trading Market, which has a Mongolian Grill and sushi, is very popular among students. Hissho Sushi, a company based in Charlotte, N.C., sends a chef and staff to prepare the sushi every afternoon. "It is only unit we serve sushi in, and we're serving around 1,600 pieces of sushi every night."

A concept that was in the commons before the renovated was Chicken Cookery Unlimited, which Floyd said first opened two years ago based upon student demand. "We had chicken strips on our three-week cycle menu and we were hearing from our students, `Well, why can't we have this on the menu more often?' So we said, `Let's go ahead and put a concept in where this is available every day of the week.' This is the only unit that has this concept in it, and it has chicken strips, chicken tenders, wings, chicken patties, homestyle potatoes, baked apples and country-style green beans - country-style menu."

O' Casa Wraps offers Mexican-style food. "It's a concept that we already had in that unit that we made some changes to and expanded and changed the name, “said Floyd.

“We have a deli operation, which is Stacks, with deli sandwiches to order," he said. "We also put a grill station in called Hole In The Wall Grill, where they can get specialty hamburgers cooked to order. And then Oodles & More is really our main line, and that is self serve, and that's where we have our traditional cafeteria line. We also have our pastas too."

In addition to adding new concepts and updating its existing ones, the university completely renovated the facility. “We refinished the floor, we added a new turbo sink, we did reconfiguration in our dish-room area and we put a tray accumulator in, which has been a big help for us," said Floyd. “If we had not replaced our old belt-type conveyor, we'd have been swamped. Because when we tripled the meal count that tray accumulator is stacked four high — we would never been able to handle the trays."

The renovation, done with the help of Homer Taylor, food consultant with MSE Branded Foods of Gainesville, Ga., and traditional Contractors of Atlanta, Ga., also included the expansion of the back of the building — its dry storage area — to provide more capacity for food storage. "We knew that the renovation would generate more business in this unit and we knew that we needed to provide more storage space," said Floyd.

Floyd said the commons' restoration has helped ease the burden from the other dining facilities on campus. "This unit sort of a little bit out of the way for our main traffic patterns on campus, and because of that, this unit had always had our lowest weekday meal counts," he said. "Because we did this renovation, it's just pulled everybody to the building. And in some ways it's helped us tremendously because it has evened out the daily meal counts in all of our dining centers, with no additional dead space on campus. And when you have 500 additional kids on your meal plan this year compared to last year, that's a big help."

The facility has also helped increase the number of meal plans sold to students not just on campus but those living off campus as well. "The housing count for this fall, right now, 6,834, and we're right at 8,072 on our meal plan," said Floyd. "The increase of meal-plan sales over the previous year is about 6 percent. We are at 118 percent of the on-campus housing count. We sold over 1,800 meal plans to off-camp students. So we always compare our total sales numbers our housing count. That's why it's 118 percent."

The university does not offer a commuter meal plan, so the students are purchasing the standard 5- or 7-day meal plans to encourage off-campus students to eat on campus, Floyd said that night parking has been added near the commons. "Because they can park next to the dining center, they come in and e with us. And a lot of the off-campus students tell me that because we do this, this is their social time. They're not getting to socialize with their friends when they are off-campus, cot pared to the socialization aspect of the dormitories."

To protect the integrity of its unlimited meal plan, the foodservice department uses the university's identification system, which uses biometric authentication. "Basically when a student comes to the university before his or her first fall semester, they come to a 2-day orientation program during the summer," Floyd explained. "While they are on campus they get their photo ID card taken at the same time we scan their hand image."

Their hand is then scanned every time they use their ID card. "Because we use that technology, we can allow our customers unlimited access because we know they can't share their ID card with anybody else," said Floyd, "because your hand image is unique to you. So because of that, our meal plan program really is unique in the college service industry because we are allowing unlimited access, free-flow into all four of our dining centers, and we have something open from 7 a.m. in the morning until midnight."

“So they can come in 20 times a day each day of the semester if they want to,” said Floyd.