Porter Consulting Foodservice Planning & Design

Illinois State University - Bloomington-Normal, IL

St. Bonaventure University - Hickey Dining Hall Renovation and Design St. Bonaventure University - Hickey Dining Hall Renovation and Design St. Bonaventure University - Hickey Dining Hall Renovation and Design

In 2005, our firm was retained by Illinois State University to develop a long-term campus-wide strategic master plan for the University’s Campus Dining Services (CDS). The goal of the planning effort was to work closely with the University and campus planners to conduct a market assessment of the current dining offerings and services to determine customer preferences, traffic patterns and unit viability, evaluate and confirm dining optimum location(s) and develop a strategic planning document to assist ISU as its campus landscape changed.

When our team began the project, Campus Dining Services offered a la carte dining in all of its campus dining venues and had been in the red financially for five years. CDS was experiencing low meal plan participation (particularly among off-campus students) and fairly high dissatisfaction with the all declining balance meal plan program. The meal plans were confusing (especially with regard to which kind of funds students could use in the various facilities, i.e. dining dollars vs. flex dollars vs. debt dollars) and the cost of the meal plans did not match purchasing power. While students liked the perceived flexibility of the all declining dollar meal plans, they also complained mightily about “how expensive” it was to eat on campus because every food item was priced individually and the price of meals could easily total up to $12.

In order to create a meaningful strategic plan that would provide ISU with a campus dining program that would appeal to all campus communities and be successfully financial, our team conducted in-depth qualitative and quantitative market research including on-site focus groups with students, faculty and staff along with personal interviews with a wide variety of campus administrators from various departments throughout campus including Student Affairs, Business Services, Athletics and more. This information was used to create a customized web-based survey distributed to ISU students, faculty and staff. This market research focused on identifying customers’ preferences as they relate to meal plans and was designed to determine if the current meal plan options and policies contributed to or detracted from the potential success of the Campus Dining Services. We also probed customers’ preferences regarding national brands, customers’ level of satisfaction for each venue on campus and customers’ perceptions of on-campus catering and conference services.

Our team also prepared extensive financial models, staffing matrices and developed a payback analysis (ROI) for proposed foodservice program including projected meal plan sales, number of retail sales transactions per day per unit, detailed expense projections and more. We also reviewed CDS’s current business systems and recommended necessary improvements and/or upgrades. All of our recommendations were presented to key members of ISU in an interactive work session style presentation that enabled attendees to give their feedback so that our team could move forward in delivering the final report containing our recommendations with a clear vision of ISU’s desired goals in mind.

At the conclusion of this project, our firm presented Illinois State University with a written final report that detailed a five-year strategic master plan that illustrated how the University could increase meal plan participation, improve customer service, control costs and eliminate nearly all of the dining service department’s challenging issues by introducing to new customer-friendly meal plans for residential and commuter students as well as faculty and staff plus different styles of service in its residential dining facilities. We also recommended a mix of specific national, regional and self-branded retail dining concepts and we recommended that CDS consolidate facilities to reduce costs. We also provided CDS with preliminary schematic designs that illustrated modifications we recommended for the various campus dining facilities to improve customer throughput and maximize efficiencies.

When Illinois State introduced the new changes to the campus dining program (after initial push back from students and significant marketing efforts by CDS to explain the benefits of the new program as well as benchmarking site visits to other campus to see how our recommended program worked), the then student-body president said:

 “The meal plan options now fit every student’s lifestyle and needs, whether they are on campus, off campus, or commute. It’s great to be able to find a meal plan that fits me. With the addition of off-campus meal plans, it allows those students to once again enjoy a great dining experience with convenience of being right on campus. These new plans not only benefit the meal plan owners but will allow our University and guests to move forward in becoming more environmentally friendly in our dining centers. I am so pleased that Campus Dining has not only a great variety of meal plan options but also offers an even better selection of high quality food for every meal or snack.”

Since Campus Dining Services implemented our master plan recommendations, they have significantly increased the number of off campus meal plan sales (from fewer than 200 in 2005 to a little more than 1,200 in 2010), have increased participation among faculty and staff who are now eating in the residential dining venues again and have doubled its reserves. (Prior to our work on campus, CDS had been losing money for five years.) Recent customer surveys show a high degree of satisfaction with the campus dining program and administrators have expressed a renewed confidence in ISU’s Campus Dining Services venues, services and program.

Projects & References

Brigham Young University Idaho
College of Saint Benedict
Concordia College
Ferris State University
Johns Hopkins Health Systems
Montcalm Community College
St. Bonaventure University
San Jose State University
SUNY Cortland
University of Colorado Boulder
University of Richmond
University of New Hampshire
Wellesley College

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