How Do You Know if Your Campus Food Service Operation is Succeeding? Do an Assessment!

JGL is perhaps best known as a dining consultancy that conducts RFP processes for its higher-ed clients nationwide. While RFP processes are a key part of what we do, we actually see assessments as the most valuable process a higher-ed institution can undertake. All too often a university is sold by an Operator’s well-polished sales team only to find that operations are lackluster several years into their contract. Hundreds of thousands in unamortized investment and the desire to avoid yet another RFP process can often lead to clients who feel forced to ride out the remainder of their term. Assessments act as a welcome intervention for these institutions who’ve previously struggled to get the results they need from their operators.

One core aspect of an assessment’s efficacy is based on a dining provider’s explicit knowledge that their operations are being scrutinized. It’s relatively easy for an operator to tell their client that changes can’t be made due to staff shortages or increases in product costs. A client’s limited knowledge of the higher-ed dining market frequently means they lack the data and industry insight to contest a provider’s claims. Retaining a dining consultant such as JGL ensures that the operator’s claims will be scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb and benchmarked against our extensive industry knowledge. While we do identify operator shortcomings in our assessments, our third-party perspective also allows us to critically analyze limitations that might be client imposed.  These are never out of a desire to be a bad business partner but are instead based on campus-wide policies that detract from an operator’s efficacy. This might be an unwillingness to raise board plan rates or a failure to speedily repair & replace aging or outdated equipment. These policies are ultimately at the university’s discretion but pointing out these obstacles in an assessment can help a client to better understand an operator’s challenges and look at their performance in a different light.

Assessing an operator’s performance provides an important snapshot of the operation, but the crucial deliverable of an assessment are the key recommendations. JGL is extremely collaborative in this regard and takes its cues from the client on what an ideal outcome of the process might look like. On the one hand, we have many clients that are looking for a mid-term “reset”; maybe they want to move from a P&L to a management fee or vice versa, or maybe they’re looking for an additional capital expenditure for an upcoming renovation of the dining facilities. On the other hand, many clients are considering going out to RFP and simply want a third party to confirm or deny the validity of their unmet expectations. Either way, the key recommendations provide a long-term roadmap to success in dining operations through an action plan, a renegotiation, or an RFP.

We always recommend sharing at least a portion of the assessment with the operator after the process has concluded. It serves as an important notice of what they’re doing well and what needs to be improved. It can also help disseminate industry best practices. Working within the business as District Manager or Resident GM often leaves little time to think entrepreneurially and work on the business. We’ve found that when a client works collaboratively with their operator using an assessment as their guiding force, meaningful results can be achieved and challenges with the vendor relationship can be turned around.

If you’re thinking about going out to RFP, slow your roll! It’s all too easy for a client to fall into the same trap of working within instead of on the business. Take the time to undertake an assessment with JGL and look critically at your dining program before pulling the plug on your operator. Regardless of the assessment’s recommendations, you’ll be armed with a clear path forward for the foreseeable future.

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