Campus culinary preferences unveiled in online survey
Whether grabbing a hamburger from the League, making a self-serve ice cream cone in the Bursley cafeteria or attending a catered retirement party in the Pendleton Room, almost everyone at U-M comes into contact with campus dining services.
In an attempt to maximize the satisfaction of these encounters, University Housing and University Unions have teamed up to determine what students, faculty and staff are looking for in their dining experiences.
The two units have collaborated to develop, finance and release an online survey to determine views and preferences about dining services on campus. The survey was sent via e-mail two weeks ago, and during the first weekend it was live 2,748 surveys were completed, half of which were done by students, says Loren Rullman, director of University Unions, which includes the Michigan Union, Michigan League, Pierpont Commons and University Catering.
"We are interested in remaining relevant to our students," he says. "We are trying to understand the needs of the campus in the way students, faculty and staff experience us."
"We really want to get a developed sense of where the U-M campus is right now in terms of its ability to deliver high-quality, varied food options at reasonable cost," says Alan Levy, director of University Housing public affairs.
Levy notes that the U-M culinary audience can be a tough crowd to please. "We have a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, well-traveled population with very high expectations about quality of food, service and facilities, and we would like to measure up to those standards as best we can."
The project is no small task with the amount of traffic that goes through dining facilities on a daily basis. On average, 10,000 people pass through the Union and 6,000-9,000 pass through the League and Pierpont Commons during the course of each day, Rullman says. The 10 dining rooms across campus serve an additional 16,000 meals a day, Levy says. Approximately 9,500 events and 372,000 guests are served each year.
The survey is one part of the research currently being done to supply information needed to make improvements in on-campus dining. Levy says focus groups have been set up to get a sense of the dining and catering situation, and market research is being done to determine what is working at other campuses across the country that could be adopted here.
The survey is vital to the process, Levy says. "Any market research that does not look intensely at what your current customers think would be at best an incomplete analysis."
The teaming of the two units provides an efficient way to get this data, Rullman says. "There are multiple food services on campus, and there are various other independent operators. Do we do a dozen surveys, which could create survey fatigue, or capture it in one survey that could help all?" he asks.
The survey asks about the participants' daily on-campus eating schedule and food preferences. It asks the participants what factors are most important when deciding where to eat on campus, including freshly prepared food, fair prices, location and convenient hours of operation. It also asks the frequency participants would eat certain types of food, including hot breakfasts, sub sandwiches, chicken strips and pasta.
The survey asks questions that matter to students, faculty and staff. "They don't know, or probably care, who operates what unit. They do have opinions on the various aspects of food service that Housing and Dining want to consider in partnership," Rullman says.
While both Rullman and Levy say they don't have fixed ideas on what the results of the survey may be, there are some things they know will need addressing, regardless of the outcome.
"We certainly intend to look at facilities, staffing levels, meal plans for students, and options available for faculty and staff," Levy says.
"I think our facilities and format and delivery mechanisms are probably out-dated," Rullman says. "Also, the menus and the way people eat are different than they were a few years ago," he says, citing the rise in vegetarian and vegan dining as examples.
The survey can be accessed until Apr. 17 at http://www.rresults.com/1650020/