Leading to make a difference. It always sounds simple, but being an effective leader is hard work. To be a true leader, you must be a visionary, a risk taker and a decision maker. You must have a mission that matters and the ability to motivate a diverse groups of employees. You must be able to identify challenges and ways to overcome them. In this new annual awards program, FM proudly recognizes five noncommercial operators who have demonstrated exceptional leadership by taking on difficult or "impossible" operational, motivational or financial challenges and the strategies they used to create standard-setting results.
Meal plan participation at the University of Georgia is totally voluntary. Yet 96% of students who live on campus sign up. Why? Because of FSD's effective marketing strategies have convinced them that they should. J. Michael Floyd is more than just the director of Foodservices at the University of Georgia in Athens. He's also the brains behind the department's successful and award-winning marketing programs, which have boosted 7-day meal plan enrollment 350% over the last 10 years. When he arrived on campus in 1986, "the meal plan program was nearly dead," he remembers. Today, nearly all of the students living on, and a large number living off, campus buy the 7-day meal plan, priced at $2,222/year.
Of course, Floyd is pleased, but there's still room for improvement, he says. "We'll keep telling our story until we've convinced every student that our meal plan program is the best value on campus and an important part of their college experience."
"Telling" his department's story is a passion for Floyd. He instills this passion in his staff and it is the driving force behind every promotion, theme dinner and special event his department puts on.
"Marketing is a critical part of our business, especially given the voluntary-nature of our meal plan, and our customer base, which turns over every year," he says. "It's all about communicating the perceived value of our service and helping students understand it. Meal plan students have access to unlimited food 7:00 AM - 10:00 PM Five days a week in our three main dining halls. I like to compare it to having access to their refrigerators at home. But they won't know that or understand that value unless we continually reinforce it."
"We have to earn our customers' business every day. Every person in this department, from the dishwasher to the dining hall managers, must have that mindset. We are here to serve our customers. If we aren't doing everything we can to meet that goal, then students won't dine with us."
The scope of the UGA foodservice department's marketing efforts is impressive. First, there is its website (www.uga.edu/foodservice). In addition to general information about meal plan programs, foodservice outlets on campus, serving hours, etc., Floyd has posted a chart called "Dare to Compare." "How good is UGA Food Services?" the chart reads. "We dare you to compare." The chart lists eight categories that compare the UGA foodservice program to those at similar campuses.
Floyd adapted this idea from another school's website and he says that "it really reinforces with our customers what makes us special."
Other marketing vehicles include professionally-designed brochures, a poster-size foodservice calendar that customers can use to remind themselves of special theme dinner occasions, dining hall hours and menu options, table tents ("no one else on campus can put table tents in my dining rooms," says Floyd. "That's my marketing area.") and a semester-long Eating Smart class, free to meal plan holders.
One important tagline that appears in all of Floyd's marketing pieces is "Your award-winning foodservice department." Notice the possessive; it's not Our or UGA's department. That's by design.
"I want students to be at home in our dining halls; I want them to feel like these serveries belong to them and that they are successful and a great place to be because of them," Floyd says in explaining the tagline.
Oh yes, about those awards. The foodservice department at UGA has won more than 41 national NACUFS dining awards. It has also been recognized for its outstanding services in dozens of regional and national publications. All of these awards and publications are beautifully framed and displayed at the entrances of the campus' three dining halls, reinforcing to students every time they walk into the halls that they are about to experience award winning food and services.
"It's human nature to want to be a part of a winning team. We could not have won those awards or earned that recognition without our customers' help. So we proudly display our awards to reinforce that message."
Again, Floyd emphasizes, it's all about telling your story. "If I tell it often enough my customers will begin repeating it, too."
Case in point: One day, Floyd was showing students from another nearby school around his foodservice facilities. He pointed out the awards and how proud his customers are of their award-winning Foodservices.
"Students don't care about awards," sniped one visitor. Floyd held his tongue. As they entered another dining hall for lunch, the visitor bumped into a friend from her hometown. She mentioned that they were about to have lunch and her friend said, "You know, we have one of the nations' best college foodservice programs in the country."
Floyd just smiled as he witnessed the fruits of his team's marketing efforts.