The University of Ottawa (UOttawa) hired PKC to assist it with the developing a comprehensive dining services business plan in conjunction with a campus-wide master plan that the University was developing with an architectural firm. The goal of UOttawa, which is located in the heart of city of Ottawa, was to develop concurrent master plans that would help guide decisions regarding buildings and services on campus for the next 10-15 years and to create a strong constituency for the University by creating spaces that are platforms for engagement. At the time of this study, the University was planning to add 1,000 beds to its campus over the next 10 years and administrators wanted to create meaningful and properly-sized places where students could connect and have memorable experiences. Also at the time, dissatisfaction with the campus dining options was high, meal plan participation was low and campus community members were increasingly choosing to eat off campus.
To complete our work, the PKC team conducted focus groups and interviews with the campus community including residential and commuter students (including off-campus students who live in a large housing area just off campus and could be a target-rich group for potential meal plan sales). We followed our site visit with a web-based survey tailored to UOttawa and based on our qualitative market research. The survey was designed to gather additional information about customers’ perceived strengths and weaknesses of the current dining program and to test future value-added options. Our team also completed an analysis of its current meal plan program and catering services.
Our recommendations for a fresh new dining program included optimum locations for residential and retail dining outlets, customer friendly meal plans and extended hours of operation in order to provide safe on-campus gathering places for all students both residential and commuter. We also completed preliminary design services that allowed us to illustrate to UOttawa administrators the physical changes that needed to be made to existing dining venues in order to implement the optimum dining program and to meet demand based on anticipated numbers of meal plan holders, commuter students and other potential dining customers.
The University embraced our recommendations and began offering Anytime Dining in Fall 2015 and we successfully assisted the University with an incumbent-only operation selection services process in order to renegotiate with the University’s current foodservice provider and secure a contract based on all of the parameters of the new dining program.
The new 24/7 Anytime Dining program has transformed the campus. UOttawa renovated the UCU Food Court into an 24/7 Anytime Dining/Learning Commons with a wider variety of food options and display cooking and a Tim Horton’s coffee shop inside the 24/7 Anytime Dining Commons as a value-added service. This centrally-located venue has become the popular gathering spot on campus not only for meal plan holders but also for thousands of commuter students who pay the door rate and use this venue as a comfortable place to hang out between classes, meet friends and/or study.
As part of its dining program transformation, UOttawa also decided to make meal plan participation required for first year residential students in order to enhance the first-year student experience in combination with the introduction of Anytime Dining. Options include Anytime 7 Day and Anytime 5 Day meal plans and to date they have sold 2,256 meal plans (ranging in price from $3,500-$4,300/year) including 300 voluntary ones to off-campus students and/or residential students not required to purchase a meal plan. Prior to the introduction of Anytime Dining, meal plan participation was non-mandatory and very limited.