SU Dining Services Named Among Top Programs in U.S.
SALISBURY, MD---Salisbury University Dining Services (UDS) is among the top collegiate dining programs in the nation, according to a recent survey by the National Association of College and University Food Service (NACUFS), which includes 484 member institutions.
The survey was conducted on campus with over 1,800 participants who gave the University exceptional marks in all areas including four important measures: food quality, variety, value and overall customer satisfaction.
SU’s dining program is self-operated, which “is the key, enabling us to be agile, proactive and responsive to the changing tastes and preferences of the campus community,” said Owen Rosten, UDS director. “We can give the students what they want without having to go through a third-party contractor. It’s also what helps us keep our meal plan prices among the lowest anywhere.”
SU is one of only two self-operated dining programs in the University System of Maryland.
Dining Services staff attributed the high scores to SU’s strong communication with students via social media including Twitter and Instagram (with a combined 2,000-plus followers), a “Text ’n’ Tell” web-based blog that provides real-time feedback, and the UDS website.
An example of a challenge reported through those lines of communication was that service was too slow at Hungry Minds Express in SU’s Patricia R. Guerrieri Academic Commons. When the building opened in 2016, managers had not anticipated such a high demand at the limited-space facility. Simplifying the menu there and improving the touchscreen ordering kiosk helped to relieve congestion.
Students also requested more choices in the way of well-known products.
“Comfort food on campus no longer means a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup,” said Rosten. “To today’s students, that means having access to what they want to eat when they aren’t in school or at their home kitchen table: national brands."
In addition to providing Starbucks coffee at the Guerrieri Student Union’s Cool Beans Café, UDS responded to student demand by bringing Chick-fil-A to campus. Auntie Anne’s Pretzels followed at Perdue Hall a few months later. SU is one of only a dozen campuses nationwide that feature the popular pretzel maker.
Chesapeake Bay Coffee Roasters, added to the Guerrieri Academic Commons last fall, also has proven to be popular with students, said Kevin Bowes, UDS director of retail operations. Its Nitro Brew; fast, warm, friendly service; and competitive price points make it a hit with students, he said.
“Chesapeake Bay is a regional, organic and sustainable brand that supports the health of the bay with a share of sales going to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation,” said George Oakley, UDS associate director. Other changes included more variety with fresh bakery items, hot breakfast sandwiches and an expansive grab-and-go menu (SU-branded “Fresh Xpress”) from the campus’ central commissary.
Some student requests are easier to fill. Adding popular menu items to the Commons dining hall’s daily rotating menu can be done quickly, said Susan Noah, Commons director.
Going beyond student favorites, UDS also has spent the past year figuring out ways to promote new foods to its customers. Bistro Buzz Wednesdays, for example, incorporates hand-tossed wings, carved brisket, sizzling fajitas and made-to-order noodle bowls.
Street Food Friday, an idea set forth by Noah, features American and international theme menus like Korean barbecue, design-your-own paella, gyros and a Madras curry bar. Dog Days features creative hot dog presentations such as the Maryland Dog (topped with macaroni and cheese with lump crab meat) and a Coney Island boardwalk dog.
“I challenge anyone to say they can’t find something great to eat here, at any time of the day” said Mark Andrews, Commons manager.
Menu development done cooperatively with chefs and managers, and reviewed daily in pre-shift production meetings, has allowed staff to put their own spin on some of the dishes, Noah added.
“We keep up with the trends, innovate, and bring new things to the table,” said John Lakatosh, executive chef. “We try to give students the ‘wow’ factor.”
Another initiative to increase student engagement, UDS employs over 200 students in the program, up from only a few dozen just three years ago. This also helps close the gap between what students want and what SU’s dining facilities provide.
“Our employees are our customers,” said Oakley.
In addition, UDS reaches out to students with special diets — everything from food allergies to religious restrictions — to ensure the campus is meeting their dining needs. A refrigerator in the Commons is stocked with gluten-free, kosher and halal foods, and other items specifically sought by individual students. Terry Passano, University dietitian, meets regularly with students to stay current with their needs and craft programs designed specifically for them.
The University continues to enhance and innovate programs and locations. The recently expanded and renovated Shore Café in Henson Science Hall introduced the brew-to-order Starbucks Serenade program and fresh-baked, personal pizzas. Up next: Students can look forward to renovations at the Commons’ Bistro and Roastery service areas — with more options at both.
“We’re not going to remain stagnant,” Lakatosh said.
For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU website at www.salisbury.edu.