Baylor Dining Services Cooking Up New Ways To Feed Hungry University
The next time Mobil releases a travel guide of the best restaurants in the country, don't be surprised to find Baylor's dining venues singled out for praise. The University is undertaking an ambitious plan to improve all areas of dining services with the ultimate goal of providing excellent food, atmosphere and service for students, faculty, staff and campus visitors.
"With the implementation of Baylor 2012, our 10-year vision, the excellence bar is being raised across the University, and we are deciding how to take food services to the next level," said Rick Creel, assistant vice president for operations and facilities. "We want to build a master plan for dining services that takes into account the ideas of faculty, staff and students."
To accomplish this goal, Creel and representatives from dining services will meet with various focus groups -- students, administrators, faculty and staff -- to determine what the Baylor community desires for its dining experience. These ideas will be used by the University's food service vendor ARAMARK to tailor a dining plan for the campus.
"It is our job to make sure that when we say (to ARAMARK) that this is what we want, that we mean all segments of the Baylor community," Creel said.
Some short-term improvements already have been implemented in dining services' three divisions -- residential, catering and retail.
Residential dining, which includes the cafeteria areas in Baylor's residence halls, is undergoing some exciting improvements. ARAMARK recently rolled out its Real Food on Campus (RFOC) concept in Memorial's dining room. Focusing on exhibition-style cooking, RFOC features omelet stations, stir fry and other food items prepared to the diner's specifications. Baylor is the only University in the U.S. to have installed the RFOC concept, ARAMARK said.
"The students are very happy with it," said Chris Krause, director of University operations. "In fact, they are telling us that they would like to see the RFOC concept in the other dining halls."
Other changes include replacement of long, institutional-type dining tables with booths and small tables and chairs that encourage students to gather. Memorial also has extended its hours. Students can now order pizza, burgers and ice cream until 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday.
"I went over to Memorial late one night, and the place was really rocking. Students are taking advantage of the late night component," Krause said.
Students are able to make their preferences known through surveys and focus groups conducted by ARAMARK.
"When we did market surveys of Baylor students, we found that they want a restaurant atmosphere," said Linda Ricks, marketing program manager for ARAMARK. "They want a relaxing environment where they can gather together in small groups, and they like to eat late at night."
Other activities that will enhance the residential dining experience include mixers for students and theme nights, such as a Monday Night Football night. Collins Residence Hall already has developed an outdoor eating area and plans to hold birthday parties for students.
The University's dining services cater a large number of Baylor events, from Regent dinners to providing food for media representatives at football games. During the busiest times of year it is not unheard of for the division to cater 10 or more events a day. While caterers have staged those events in a beautiful manner, food quality has been an issue at times. Supervisors say changes and additions in staff are expected to change that.
For example, Greg Hensley, the former food service director of Harrington House, has been promoted to director of catering, a position which complements his professional background. And Jim Jorgenson, a graduate of the esteemed Culinary Institute of America, has come on board as an executive chef.
"We visited four- and five-star restaurants and country clubs to see what they do for upper scale dining," Creel said. "Then we hired an executive chef because we realized we couldn't do a five-star presentation without someone qualified to lead the way. We want to wow our diners and make them feel good about their dining experience."
Brett Perlowski, senior food service director, said that while Baylor will never give up its sesame chicken ("everybody loves it"), new upscale menu items will enhance the dining experience.
"We have set out to change the catering experience. We won't have to serve chicken at every meal or be satisfied with a dried-out piece of steak," he said.
While many special events are catered at Harrington House, Baylor's faculty dining facility, it is considered a retail establishment during regular working hours. Faculty who have eaten there since the fall semester began probably have noticed some changes to the dining room. Dawn Dupree, who previously served as director of catering, has been named Harrington House director and has brought creativity and excitement to the establishment's offerings. The menu has been changed, although a buffet is still in place, and new linen tablecloths and more formal attire for wait staff have added to the ambience.
In the future, Harrington House plans to add a "take-out service," but patrons shouldn't expect mystery casseroles or meatloaf.
"We will offer a service where you can call and get a prepared meal," Krause said. "And the items available will be things like beef tenderloin."
In the past when time didn't permit a sit-down meal, Baylor students, faculty and staff often had no choice but to leave campus to grab a snack. Now, a series of convenience stores located in campus buildings has eliminated that need. The Baylor community can grab fresh donuts at Shipley's along with a cup of coffee at Starbucks or perhaps a vitamin-packed fruit smoothie after a workout at the McLane Student Life Center.
Memorial has gained a convenience store, which offers such items as milk, cereal and ice cream for students to take up to their rooms. The food court in the Bill Daniel Student Center now offers the Home Zone, which features "blue plate" specials of an entrée and vegetables. A golf cart with the capacity to serve beverages and snacks also has been making the rounds on campus.
"Students will clean the cart out. They often just don't have time during the day to go to a dining hall," Krause said.
There are plans to introduce dining elements in many campus locations that attract large numbers of students. One example is Moody Memorial Library, which will open a full-service Java City coffee bar that will have access to the refurbished Moody Brews garden area. Buildings currently under construction also will feature dining areas integrated into the designs.
"One of the imperatives of the 10-year Vision is to create a truly residential campus," Creel said. "We are not going to accomplish that simply by constructing new buildings. We are going to create that by developing a place where people want to stay. Dining services will collaborate with the Division of Student Life, faculty and staff to continue asking questions and gathering the responses and then make the necessary changes in a systematic way. We have met our short-term objectives, and now we have to listen to our customers to ensure future successes. That is exciting."
The Bear Facts About Food on Campus
About 60,000 food and beverage transactions take place each week on the Baylor campus
Approximately 320,000 slices of pizza are sold each year in Baylor dining facilities
More than 5,300 students are enrolled in a Baylor meal plan
A "tall caramel macchiato" is the No. 1 selling Starbucks beverage at Baylor
Baylor students make up 35 percent of ARAMARK's 467 employees