WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (EXPONENT) - If you’ve noticed a change in the taste of coffee offered in the dining courts, you might not have realized Purdue is actually saving money by buying better tasting coffee.
With Purdue President Mitch Daniels freezing tuition last semester, the dining services are also helping to make things more affordable. They’re making the necessary cuts, but with careful inspection of their effects and the impact they will have in the future, such as changing from liquid concentrated coffee to brewed coffee and buying recycled paper napkins that are 1 inch smaller than the previous napkins.
Ken Field, interim director of residential dining, said the 5 percent cost cut – which amounts to about $3 million – didn’t come from Daniels; it was actually the dining services’ idea.
“When President Daniels came on and announced his tuition freeze for student affordability, we decided that we wanted to be a part of that,” Field said. “We then presented to Daniels and the Board of Trustees a proposed 5 percent reduction in cost for students on the board plan in residence halls. That was a rebate of about $250 per student.”
The next big question was “What do we cut next?” It was definitely not an easy decision to make. But Field said that by prioritizing the students’ needs and wants, it all just came together.
“We kind of put everything on the table that we were looking at to provide this 5 percent reduction without impacting the quality of what we do for our students. We have one of the highest customer satisfaction schools for dining operations across the country,” Field said. “We wanted to make sure we did everything we could to continue to deliver a great product and keep the students satisfied.”
Even though the cut was substantial, Field said they didn’t want to affect the quality and the customer service standards dining services have held so high for many years. They then went back to analyze and assess every item to make sure they were getting the best deal.
“Probably the biggest impact was the food. We started looking at what our menus looked like and menu cycles. We went to our suppliers and made sure we were getting the best possible pricing that we could,” Field said. “We tried to save the students’ favorites and rework the menu so that they’re still on the menu, but maybe not as often ... We added a menu variety to try to maintain that quality.”
Last year, Field was a part of a program called Table Talks with Greg Minner, director of dining services, to have a meal with students in the dining courts and ask about what could be improved and what their suggestions are. The biggest suggestion was the possibility of extending the hours of On-the-Go stations and increasing the number of items allowed per meal swipe.
The dining services tried its best to listen to the students’ opinions. Ford’s On-the-Go station closing time was changed from 4 to 8 p.m. and the items allowed per swipe has increased from three to four. But with a reusable cup students received in their residence hall, they are allowed to get a free drink with a swipe, totaling five items.
With around 17,000 to 18,000 meals being served every day in the dining courts, enough manpower is essential for the dining courts to run smoothly. The solution is work-study students. But the cost reduction has not impacted them financially.
The dining services also boast an expanding menu filled with alternative food options for students with food allergies.
“The fact is that more and more students are coming to live with us with existing food allergies. So that’s not an area we felt like we should be cutting in fact, we tried to add additional selections,” Field said.
Carrie Anderson, dining court supervisor, works specifically with students with different food allergies and said the cost cut hasn’t affected these students so far. Wiley even added a “No Meat No Wheat” station for vegetarians and gluten allergic students.
“We are currently doing the same thing for our food allergic students that we did before the 5 percent cut,” Anderson wrote in an email. “We work with our students on a case by case basis. Sometimes students need more individualized help and some learn how to manage quite nicely without much help.”
Field ended by saying the cuts will be ongoing and they will not try to get the $3 million back, but instead try to keep the costs low and the quality as high as possible.
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