U rolls out new food service proposal process

If you think decisions about what food services are offered on campus are simple, think again.

Ann Arbor's central and north campuses are home to more than 60 food service operations, including dining halls, food carts, coffee shops and restaurants. Together, they serve the tens of thousand of students, visitors, faculty and staff, and patients who make up the U-M community.

To better coordinate the placement of food service operations on campus, the University is rolling out a new food service proposal process, guidelines, tools and review committee to evaluate proposals for future food service operations for academic and administrative units supported by the General Fund and units within the Division of Student Affairs.

Going forward, decisions about food service operations will be based on a careful balance of addressing campus needs for food and social gathering, with consideration for potential market demand and the ability for an operation to be financially self-sustaining, says Loren Rullman, associate vice president of Student Affairs and chair of the newly formed campus Food Service Review Committee.

Food service options have grown dramatically since the days when food was served primarily in residence halls and campus unions during defined mealtimes, Rullman notes.

"Now, food is much more of a social experience during all parts of the day and evening, " adds Rullman, "and with a more coordinated process, we have the opportunity to craft more synergistic spaces on the Ann Arbor campus — places where students, faculty and staff from various schools and colleges can interact and collaborate."

The new process, guidelines, tools and review committee are the result of a recent campus Food Service Planning Project, sponsored by the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and Vice President for Student Affairs.

Until now, units have not had a coordinated process, guidelines or resources to evaluate their food service needs or determine how those needs fit into the broader campus environment, notes Frances Mueller, project manager for the Food Service Planning Project and U-M Space Utilization Initiative.

Rob White, a strategic planning consultant for the hospitality industry, advised the Food Service Planning Project and analyzed the current campus market. White describes the Ann Arbor campus as a "mature and highly saturated market with respect to food service," noting that U-M has more food service options per student than similarly sized institutions, such as University of Minnesota, Ohio State University and Michigan State University.

As food is increasingly integrated into campus life, it is important for the University to take a strategic approach that not only meets the basic need for food and community building, but also promotes the best use of campus space and financial responsibility, Mueller says.

"We want to make sure that all new and existing operations have the opportunity to succeed. Having the new process and tools in place helps us to better understand how a new or changing establishment might affect other food services nearby."

The idea to study existing campus food service operations originated with the Offices of the Provost, Associate Vice President for Finance, University Planner and Division of Student Affairs as part of ongoing efforts to make sure food service facilities meet the needs of the University community, correspond to overall campus master plans, complement one another and are financially viable.

To learn more about food service planning, go to foodplanning.umich.edu.