A new café concept at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science has boosted campus dining revenues by around 25 percent since the expanded, heavily renovated space opened up in August 2013. The eatery is patronized exclusively by students and staff of the university located in the northern suburbs of Chicago (the facilities are restricted access).

Operated by local catering/contract foodservice firm Food For Thought, the café features...
• grill and deli stations;
• an EVO build-your-own station that rotates different concepts such as pita sandwiches and salads weekly;
• an entree station with a rotating menu (including sushi priced by the ounce every Monday);
• a hearth oven station that rotates pizzas, calzones and hot sandwiches (grinders) weekly;
• an unusual S-shaped salad/soup bar; and
• a circular espresso bar/smoothie station with a refrigerated pastry display and backlit walk-in cooler with seven doors that serves as an express case with an assortment of bottled beverages and grab-and-go meal/snack choices.

Café hours are 7:30 am to 8 pm (6 pm on Friday) during the week. The typical day sees around 850 transactions, mostly at lunchtime.

The university has a couple thousand students, few of them resident. Students from the medical school are only on campus in their first two years and then away on rotations the subsequent years.

Growth has come recently through the additions to the curriculum. A pharmacy program began three years ago, adding students with each successive academic year (next year there will be four full classes for the first time). RFUMS also added the DePaul University nursing program this year. Starting with around 15 students it will eventually encompass several hundred.

Breakfast traffic is “decent,” says Food for Thought Multi Unit Manager Liz Guzman. Choices range from basic baked products to full hot breakfasts. In the evening after the main café closes, the espresso station remains open and offers hot sandwiches from a Turbo Chef oven, and students can also take selections from the grab and go cases.

Food For Thought has been RFUMS’s dining services provider for almost a decade. The company worked with the university on the initial design of the revamped café, which encompassed an expanded footprint. RFUMS had added a new building to its campus and the expanded café’s seating area extends into that new structure.

The renovation produced a major reconfiguring of the servery, opening it up to allow more convenient traffic flow among the stations and a clear, easy path to three double-sided POS terminals to complete transactions. Meanwhile, a wholesale redesign of the food stations has allowed for more flexible menu formatting.  They are now customized rather than following a set cycle, which fits better with the Food for Thought operating model.

“We typically don’t use menu cycles,” says Geoff De Lucca, Food for Thought’s business development manager. “We customize to each client’s wishes.”

The company, a major provider of catering services in the Chicago area, also provides the catering for campus meetings and events at RFUMS.

“The café is one of the factors that students look at when choosing a school,” says Guzman, whose duties include overseeing the RFUMS account for Food for Thought. “Also, the equipment was literally over 30 years old and really needed a facelift. Plus, enrollment had increased and we needed more space to accommodate the customers.”

There are a few commercial restaurants nearby but students would have to drive to them as the RFUMS campus is flanked on its two sides by the Great Lakes Naval Station and the James Lovell Federal Healthcare Center.

Catering comprises 35 to 38 percent of the total revenue, says De Lucca. In March and August, that leaps to over half of revenues because of graduations and orientation activities (March in a medical school means boards, pre-graduation awards ceremonies/activities and “match day,” the day students find out where they are going after school).