Liberty University (LU) engaged Porter Khouw Consulting in Fall 2013 to evaluate the financial performance of its dining operations, to assess its contract with this foodservice provider and to determine the true value of the University’s dining operations. In order to better understand the unique traffic patterns and geography of Liberty University, PKC toured all of the dining venues during various day parts (including peak meals), observed customer behaviors and spoke with key stakeholders and campus constituents to identify specific challenges and determine opportunities for improvement. As our firm conducted our market research, we uncovered growing dissatisfaction with the various aspects of the dining program including menu variety and selection, food quality and freshness and the meal plan options. Additionally, we learned that students were frustrated with many aspects of the University’s primary dining venue, Reber-Thomas Dining Hall, including over-crowding during peak meal periods, inefficient space planning and pinch-points in the servery and long lines at the entrance and at popular stations. As a result of these issues and others, students didn’t perceive dining on campus as a good value, and sought opportunities off campus to supplement what they could not get using their meal plans on campus.
Following the site visit and qualitative data collection, PKC issued a customized, web-based survey to the entire campus community to quantify behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions. All of the information collected was analyzed to develop short-term and long-term strategies for change, which would help the campus reach unprecedented levels of student satisfaction, and ultimately have a positive impact not only the value of the dining operations, but also the value of living and dining on campus.
PKC presented a set of unique programmatic and design solutions that would help to transform the entire dining program at Liberty University. The cornerstone of our recommendations was the implementation of Unlimited Anytime Dining, which would allow meal plan holders and others to dine when their schedules allowed during extending hours of continuous operation at Reber-Thomas Dining Hall. We also recommended value-added, student-friendly meal plans and other changes to improve the overall perceived value of the dining program and to support social engagement on campus. A full five-year proforma was developed to illustrate the financial impact of our recommendations and we presented a schematic design which would serve as the foundation for the redesign of the Reber-Thomas dining facility. PKC served as the lead foodservice consulting firm for this project which was completed in the summer of 2014.
The transformation of Reber-Thomas included modifications to the access points by moving the checker stations back toward the servery and the installation of speed lanes which enabled customers to quickly validate their meal plan and enter the servery. The foodservice delivery platforms were redesigned to enhance efficiency and to increase the number service points and access to back-of-the-house production and support. Queuing issues were resolved by strategically separating and directing the service lines and several concepts were redesigned to that they could be transformed from made-to-order stations to self-service stations during peak meal periods. Finally, new seating options were installed to create greater seating efficiencies, add variety, and better meet the needs and preferences of the students.
The LU community has overwhelmingly embraced Anytime Dining and the renovation of Reber-Thomas has not only increased social engagement opportunities on campus, it has also helped grow meal plan participation and satisfaction. In fact, Reber-Thomas was named the #1 dining hall in the United States for 2015 (as rated by BestColleges.com). PKC is currently working with Liberty University on building another large Anytime Dining venue.