Use your Summer Wisely
Those of you who work in a higher education environment probably just breathed a sigh of relief. The academic year is over, students have (mostly) departed campus, the main dining hall is closed, and the start of the next academic year seems a long way off. Think again. As any good business coach will tell you, it is time to work on your business – not in it. Contract and self-operated higher education liaisons or directors can use the summer “downtime” to set the stage for a more effective and efficient food service operation in the fall. In the process, you will likely cut expenses and/or create new revenues. Here are 7 thoughts to get you started:
- Evaluate outlet usage during shoulder hours (hours of operation at the very beginning and end of the day): Data is key to any good decision. In the midst of the academic year, it is hard to make any operating hour changes. The summer is an excellent time to evaluate transaction counts by half hour segment for the first two and last two hours of daily operation by location. If you find transaction counts are far lower during these shoulder periods, take the secondary step of reviewing items sold during these shoulder periods. Chances are good another outlet can fill the need, thus creating labor savings. Putting new hours in place before the academic year begins is a smart way to align student expectations with operating realities.
- Automate your survey process: Student, faculty and staff surveys can be very helpful in gathering insight on trends, preferences, likes and dislikes. All too often, the survey process is a last-minute exercise whose content and timing needs approval from a busy communications department. Plan out a survey strategy now and get buy in from communications in advance. Survey regularly (every two-three months), measure the same data each time and develop a methodology to track progress. Be sure to include a way for selected respondents to win some food related benefit – think dining dollars, vouchers, guest swipes or a cooking class.
- Recalibrate the value of a swipe: From an accounting perspective, a meal swipe has an assigned value. We have found, all too often, the value of the swipe is not recalibrated annually resulting in financial losses. This is particularly important in the current environment as product costs are increasing exponentially.
- Recalibrate meal equivalencies: If swipes can be used in retail outlets, recalibration of the meal equivalency is another task that should be done annually. We liken this process to dental hygiene; it may be unpleasant to institute increased pricing, but it is a necessary measure to keep up with increasing product and labor costs.
- Study catering: The more catering business that remains on campus the better for the overall financial health of the operation. Evaluate what type of business is leaving campus. Student groups? Consider DIY pick up kits. Board lunches? Create new menu options that are more appealing. Plan a series of focus groups for heavy catering users at the beginning of the fall semester; feed them well and utilize their input year-round.
- Study catering part 2: Does your campus have a beautiful space well suited to catered events? Is there an opportunity to rent the space to outside groups (conferences/camps/ alumni groups)? Outside rentals can generate rental income and create incremental catering revenue. Spend the summer developing a business plan and present it to senior leadership for approval and implementation.
- Implement key performance indicators (KPI’s): KPI’s are a great method to measure the ongoing health of your food service operation. When developing your KPI’s consider your primary goals. Number of meal plans sold, retail sales per caps, cost per meal, meals per staff hour or sales per staff hour are all great metrics. Not only should you track these measures monthly, but you should document the assumptions utilized in your annual budget for comparison too.
Try some or all of these over this coming summer and reach out to let us know what impact they had!