Campus dining is one of the most challenging parts of the hospitality industry. Getting thousands of meals prepared on time every day with a staff composed of permanent employees, students, and temporary workers is far from easy, especially given students' idiosyncratic schedules. And catering for special events on campus, where highly skilled workers are a necessity, adds an extra degree of difficulty.
Overcoming these challenges requires a tactical approach. So we brought together three top experts in campus dining to discuss strategies for creating a seamless experience, both in the front and back of house:
- Tanya Delisle, Director of Catering for Sodexo at Colleges of the Fenway Dining
- Suzanne Paltz, Director of PantherDining at Georgia State University
- Jeff Weissinger, Assistant Director for Operational Effectiveness at Vanderbilt University
Here are some highlights:
Planning is everything
The panelists agreed that forward planning was essential for both dining facilities and catering. At Vanderbilt's dining facilities, Jeff and his managers used a zero-base staffing exercise to build their teams from the ground up before the current academic year. Rather than backfilling positions with temporary workers, they explicited earmarked some roles for temps in the knowledge that filling them with permanent employees or students would be tough.
Even though catering can be less predictable, Tanya said she tried to plan her staffing at the Colleges of the Fenway at least a semester in advance. As soon as the fall semester ends, she starts looking at the fall semester of the next academic year, taking into account the lessons her staff has just learned.
Once shifts are planned out, attention moves to scheduling workers. Suzanne said she typically scheduled permanent employees two weeks in advance and temporary workers on much shorter notice, with shifts filling on platforms like Instawork within a few minutes. Though managers at Georgia State are encouraged to include expectations for call-outs in their planning, she said, some still prefer to "pad" their shift totals to ensure that they themselves don't end up working the line!
Finding the right skills
Skill levels are especially important for catering, Tanya said, with many events hosted by the colleges' top brass. So she tends to rely more on experienced workers – both permanent and temporary – rather than students. She likes to have her temporary workers on a roster, so she can keep offering shifts to the best professionals. Tanya still uses students for setup and takedown, though, and one-off events tend to fit well into their schedules.
With skilled staff in short supply at Vanderbilt, Jeff set up a culinary academy to train students for higher-value roles in the dining facilities. But as Suzanne said, students are looking for advancement and a feeling of team cohesiveness these days when they consider on-campus jobs. She recommended instituting a leadership program to offer students a sort of career path within the campus dining setting.
The panelists took on several more topics in the campus dining space, and we hope you'll have a chance to watch the webinar and benefit further from their insights. With hospitality staff still at a premium, every tip helps! Feel free to get in touch with us via email@example.com if you have more questions after watching the video.