Campus dining booms in tough times

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Despite a sagging economy and flat enrollment, students continue to spend money on food.

Numbers compiled by campus dining General Manager Jeffrey Johnson show a 14 percent increase in total money spent this year compared to this time last year.

Community members spent $815,947.11 between Aug. 27, 2010 and March 30, which was $100,402.74 more than was spent during the same period in the previous year.

The reason for the growth is a 20.45% sales increase the plaza level dining area has seen this year.

The figures show that students are spending more money per transaction as the number of transactions have increased 11.33 percent.

According to Johnson, the reason for the increase is two-fold: an increased diversity of offerings and the discounts students get for using Maverick dollars.

“We’re not here to provide what we want, we’re here to provide what the students want,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t do us any good to offer what we would like to see out here.”

The Maverick dollars program, started in the summer of 2009, allows students to load money onto the student ID card, qualifying students to save 12.75 percent on purchases at both the plaza dining area and at
Josephine’s Cafe.

Because Maverick dollars qualify as a student meal plan, it is sales-tax free. Sodexo adds an additional five percent as an incentive for students.

“I used to hear that our prices were too high,” Johnson said, continuing, “12.75 percent savings is substantial and so I don’t hear that so much anymore.”

The impact of the incentive is clear: Maverick dollar sales have increased 820 percent, though Johnson said increased awareness may have played a part in the increased numbers.

Campus dining’s numbers have not been unilaterally positive.

Josephine’s Cafe saw a slight decrease in the number of transactions leading to a two percent drop in sales figures.

The catering services Sodexo provides are also down 39 percent, a figure that directly affects students, according to Johnson. Sodexo is contractually obligated to give 8 percent back of the profit the company makes on catering to the college for use in funding the Metro Transit bus cards.

Feedback sought

Johnson is candid in his desire to improve campus dining.

At a March 23 senate meeting Johnson introduced his plan to form a student committee focused on refining the campus dining experience.

“[T]hat committee [is] my pulse of the student population on how we’re doing, what we can be doing, [and] on different items we can offer,” Johnson said.

One of the most requested items according to Johnson is a greater diversity of sustainable seafood. He says what is offered is already 100 percent sustainable.

“Nothing is served that’s on the endangered species list or any of the watch lists,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said that students request notification of both nutrition information and whether food is gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan.

He says nutrition information is online at http://www.mctcdining.com while Sodexo is working on improving gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options and notifying customers about existing options.

Part of that effort will be working with the Sodexo operation at St. Cloud State University, which Johnson said have good gluten-free and vegan options.

The expansion will start sooner rather than later: he debuted made-to-order gluten-free pizza at the health fair on April 6.