Dining Room attendance zooms for special lunches
by Bob MacIver,
When the Food Services portfolio was assigned to me about two years ago, it was apparent that the Sir George Williams Faculty and Staff Dining Room (H-765 in the Henry F. Hall Building) was being under-utilized.
It did not make good business sense for either the University or the Marriott Corporation, our designated food provider, to continue to provide lunch service to an average of six to eight diners daily.
The dining room at Loyola (AD-307 in the Administration Building) was averaging 40 patrons per day and all seemed well. Because the Loyola Campus is relatively isolated, its location is convenient to its client base.
The downtown operation, however, was competing (if you can call it that) with at least 50 restaurants in a six-block radius. Even so, we certainly could do better, I thought. I discussed the situation with the Marriott officials and the personnel in Conference Services, who were all more experienced in the food trade than I.
We looked at menus, presentation, prices and existing promotional vehicles. Ideas were consolidated, adjustments were made, and last year, we averaged 20 diners per day. Still not good enough.
While we were making a modest improvement downtown, we began to see a decline at Loyola. The population on that campus had diminished considerably. The flagship dining operation was listing!
The advent of Shoptalk, the electronic newsgroup for Concordia staff, gave me the opportunity to express my concern. There was some public response, and more comment was sent to me privately.
I soon learned that there was a segment of the community that we could never attract on a regular basis: the smokers, who represent about 30 per cent of the potential client base. I also heard from dieters, vegetarians, carnivores, soup-lovers, fish-haters, salad buffs and the lactose-intolerant. "Give me more of this, less of that," they said, each unknowingly contradicting the other.
However, two messages emerged: the belief in some quarters that the dining rooms were "clubs," which were exclusive to "members," and in some cases, complete ignorance of the existence of a university dining room.
With the help of the Marriott group, we took action. A Two-for-One in January drew 197 patrons, and a Valentine's Day luncheon drew 210. A St. Patrick's Day luncheon downtown drew 141 people, though only 34 attended the corresponding luncheon at Loyola, fewer than expected.
At the same time, we saw an increase in daily attendance to 30 customers per day downtown and stabilized attendance at the Loyola Dining Room. Ultimately, our target is 40 diners daily, on each campus.
It has been said that these lunches have come as a welcome diversion from the everyday grind and may have contributed to rekindling a lost sense of community. We are grateful for the positive reviews, and will do our very best to make the Faculty and Staff Dining Rooms as welcoming as possible and keep the flame burning.
We are also adding sound systems to each dining room in the near future. A nice lunch and a little music just might be the winning combination. Fifty diners per day? Puffers, come home! Well, I can dream, can't I?
High praise from staff
The following remarks were taken from Shoptalk, the staff listserver.
Lori Clark-Gardner (Finance): Hats off to those who worked hard on today's lunch at the Faculty lounge, it was superb. A very festive atmosphere as well
lorrian@vax2: I agree with Lori -- I had a great time. Can't wait until Halloween. Just don't have blood pudding, please.
Sue O'Connell (Education): It's certainly nice to be able to bump into familiar folks and share a word or two at these well-planned luncheons. Some people, I hadn't seen for weeks and months. It promotes comradeship. I like it. Do it again.
Danièle Berthiaume (Music): I wanted to thank Stan for his welcoming smile at the St. Pat's lunch in the Loyola Faculty Lunch Room. The luncheon at Loyola was also a great success, and although nobody volunteered to sing (Printing Services had produced singing sheets), Stan almost accepted to dance with Fr--. Next time, maybe!