Aramark manages the inhouse dining operation for Downtown Chicago's University Center, which services three adjacent schools.
Generally, a foodservice operation catering to a college dormitory customer base takes into account the traditions, culture and preferences of the school whose students it serves. But what if it serves more than one?
That's the challenge facing Aramark Corp., which manages the inhouse dining operation for Downtown Chicago's University Center, a fairly unique experiment in institutional cooperation. The 18-story complex is a 1,700-bed "student residence" (not "dormitory," it emphasizes) that houses students from three adjacent schools: Columbia College, DePaul University and Roosevelt University.
Aramark runs a combination c-store/board dining hall on the complex's second floor that serves resident students. The company also does onsite catering, which includes food services for the attached 30,000-sq.ft. conference center.
The center operates under a distinct foodservice contract separate from each school's in-house foodservice (Aramark recently landed the contract for Roosevelt). To patronize the foodservice at University Center, students have the option of either paying cash or purchasing a board plan. The 10-meals-per-week option with $660 in flex dollars for $2,196 a year is the most popular, says Bill Reich, Aramark's onsite director of food services for University Center.
University Center's foodservice is available from 7 am (11 am weekends) to midnight, though the dining options are reduced after 7:30 pm to various grab-and-go and short-order options. The dining hall stations range from Mediterranean Oven (pizzas/hot sandwiches/casseroles/baked desserts made in a gas-fired brick oven) and Grand Traditions (comfort food entrèes) to Champion Grill, Cutting Board (deli sandwiches/wraps) and Global Saute (madetoorder ethnic choices rotating on a six-week cycle). A grab-and-go area retails items like sushi, sandwiches and salads.
The menu has been refined somewhat since the opening last August to reflect traffic patterns and customer preferences. "We started with a lot more made-to-order choices but soon realized that the traffic was to great to maintain it while keeping up service levels," Reich says. "We've now found what we think is a happy medium."
An average of about 2,200 transactions take place daily in the operation, including some 250-300 for breakfast and 150 during the late evening, he adds.
University Center residences range from single-occupancy studio apartments and fourbedroom/two-bath suites with living and dining areas and kitchens, to spartan one-room/ onebath units shared by two students. About a third of the residents have access to in-room kitchens, and Aramark's c-store caters to their needs with a variety of packaged retail food products, says Reich.
Because University Center is shared by three institutions with differing academic calendars, the foodservice operation must accommodate all three. For instance, this past spring, the three schools had their spring breaks over three consecutive weeks, so the operation had to remain open with reduced customer counts over the whole time.