With 635 issues over almost two decades, David Annis turned a small newsletter into a campus tradition.
If you were to ask David Annis to point to one initiative he'd identify as a signature touch over his 20+ years with OU's dining services department, it would likely be his “Kitchen Comments” program. Started as a weekly newsletter distributed at foodservice outlets around campus, it was Annis' way of regularly soliciting and responding to student feedback about OU's dining operations.
“I did 635 issues,” he says, a note of pride in his voice. “In a way, it was a kind of early blog, and it was always a great communications tool for me. Once you open up a clear line of communications with customers, you'd be surprised what you find out that you wouldn't have known about otherwise.”
From menu suggestions to service complaints, from a cook who is going “off recipe” to inquiries about the source of the department's food and ingredients, Annis used the newsletter to address student concerns on a weekly basis. It also was a catalyst Annis employed to help staff focus on the changing nature of the OU customer base.
“You wouldn't think a little thing like a newsletter would have much influence, but it has. Dave would turn the comments into a weekly dialogue,” says Director of Retail Operations Kevin Barker.
“He always wanted us to respond immediately and used it to show us changes that were coming, that we needed to do things to make money for OU, but also to respond to what students wanted, to make them as satisfied as possible with our service. The focus was always on what helped us grow.”
Looking back, Annis says that the publication engendered a following that sometimes went beyond its role as a communication vehicle, but which nonetheless cemented its place in the OU student culture.
“Over the years we've had certain ‘regulars,’” he chuckles. “One I'll never forget used to sign himself Cyrano de Maniac. Another time we had large cardboard cutouts of the Kellogg's cereal characters “Snap, Crackle and Pop” in our breakfast line, and one morning Pop disappeared! Soon after, I got a ransom note, with certain demands for things the kidnappers wanted in the cafeteria, ‘or we'd never see Pop again.’
“I published the note in my Kitchen Comments that week and responded, ‘We don't negotiate with kidnappers.’ A week later, we got a little package delivered to the office with Pop's finger in it. Later it turned out this was the work of a group of students and we all had a good laugh about it.”
These days, most of the comments arrive online, and in his new role as director of housing, Annis has passed on the responsibility of keeping up the Kitchen Comments tradition to Chuck Weaver.
“Kitchen Comments is Chuck's job now,” Annis says. “The director is the one who needs the direct input from the customers and the one who is in the best position to answer their concerns.”