June 19, 2017

Dining & Catering dreams up solutions, wins industry magazine award

Gathering Place dining station The action station in The Gathering Place in Meredith Hall features stir fry for a "Far East Fare" meal in October, part of Dining & Catering's response to the need for an appealing way to minimize or avert crowdedness issues. (Photo courtesy of Tramillia Benson, Purdue Dining & Catering) Download image

Purdue Dining & Catering, in fall 2016, received the challenge to serve 750 additional meal plans without expanding its dining venues. An imaginative, can-do response has led not only to satisfaction for diners but also to the Best Customer Service Award in the annual Food Management Magazine Best Concept Awards.

The recipe for this success story involved innovation of space, inventiveness with menus and a dash of whimsy.

"This was a Purdue Dining & Catering team initiative allowing traditional meal plans to expand into creative alternatives with tremendous success,” says Kathleen Manwaring, director of operations for Purdue Dining & Catering.

The team looked at two minimally used dining rooms off the Central Culinary Kitchen in Meredith Hall and made a welcome offer -- student groups could make reservations there as one option in Dining & Catering's “7 Ways to Use Your Meal Swipes” campaign. The campaign was created to alleviate the potential of overcrowding in the dining courts. The rooms acquired the names The Gathering Place and 1North.

Group programs involving faculty fellows -- a traditional faculty-student meet-up program-- staff, and learning communities could gather for a meal and participate in planned diversity and cultural activities. It was also available for individuals with meal plans to walk in. The Gathering Place and 1North captured more than 16,000 meals in 2016-17.

The new “pop up” style restaurant concept was a huge hit with students. No waiting in line, an upscale menu, fun activities, cultural and diverse meals and programming kept student customers coming back for more each week. The culinary team created menus to give board plan students a distinct dining experience available only to them. The dinner menu changed weekly, featuring a chef-attended action station, and accompanied unique activities. Examples of meals are “Brinner” - Breakfast for Dinner, Student Farm to Fork, Thanksgiving “Whenever,” Taste of India and The Butcher Block BBQ.

The Gathering Place and 1North got aluminum table toppers to provide a nice finish for the existing tables. Dining & Catering also brought in upscale portable serving equipment, small ware items, a beverage station and a large screen TV.

The “7 Ways” campaign has been reassessed for fall 2017, and The Gathering Place and 1North will continue as a positive way to ease the service load in the dining courts. Because of that success, high top tables were purchased for the 2017 spring semester to expand the seating in 1North.

Having created a new and enjoyable dining option in regard to convenient group space and extensive menu options, Purdue Dining & Catering stepped to the head of the line in the national award program, which recognizes and celebrates the best practices and most innovative thinking in on-site food service.

“We are very proud of this achievement and the efforts of the staff for this concept and all components of the '7 Ways' campaign," Manwaring says.

Source: Kathleen Manwaring, director of operations for Purdue Dining & Catering, kmanwaring@purdue.edu


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