Sonoma State University

In Spring 2007, Sonoma State University (SSU) hired our firm to create a campus-wide dining services master plan as well as to review the planned programming and space allocation program for the new University Center. As part of the process, our team studied the University’s strategic master plan and considered how the planned changes to the campus including the new University Center would /could impact Dining Services. These changes included the planned increase in enrollment to 10,000 students and the addition of a new housing complex.

One major challenge facing SSU was the lack of a contemporary and conveniently located University Center. The existing student center was somewhat outdated and undersized for the existing population, lacked sufficient and attractive meeting space and was no longer conveniently located to the academic core of campus. SSU planned to build a new state-of-the-art campus center near the recreation center and to the academic core of campus. One of the goals of this new building was create social/meeting space for campus community members and especially commuter students, 84% of whom live within one mile of campus. Other challenges facing SSU’s dining services department: a dated residential dining venue that was off the beaten path, a meal plan program that offered meals-per-week plans that students disliked and an untapped commuter student market which was largely underserved by the current facilities.

Our team kicked off this project by spending three days on campus where we immersed ourselves in the campus culture. We toured the campus and all of the dining venues as well as conducted focus groups and interviews with students (resident and non-resident), faculty, staff and administrators. Our goal was to learn as much as we could about customers’ current perceptions of the campus dining program. Using this valuable information, we created a web-based survey to further confirm and/or challenge these perceptions and to evaluate how campus customers might react to possible changes to the dining program including different meal plan options and services. More than 600 customers responded to the survey.

After analyzing the results of the survey and our qualitative market research, we presented our findings and preliminary recommendations to campus decision makers. They embraced our recommendations which included consolidating most of the dining venues into the new University Center in order to maximize food production and labor efficiencies and to provide convenient dining options for the majority of SSU’s campus constituents. To illustrate these savings, our team completed extensive five-year financial projections complete with staffing matrices for all of the recommended venues in the new University Center along with revenue and expense projections which were rolled into a proforma. The financial projections were included in a final report which was delivered to the University in Fall 2007 summarizing our findings and providing narrative descriptions of our recommendations.