Food changes coming up with a slight increase in the meal plan

Aramark has had a vision for the future of food on campus for the past few years, and that vision will start to become reality in the next year.

The Brown building is currently being renovated to provide new food services for students in the fall. Photo by Brandon Key.

In the fall of this year, the newly renovated Brown building will open for business and will feature Steak ‘n Shake, Starbucks, a new dining hall and a new convenience store; a full-service Chick-fil-A will be replacing the recently closed McAlister’s Deli. A total of 19 food venues will be present on WCU’s campus.

The number of Aramark employees will also be increasing this fall. Currently, there are 520 employees, 295 of which are students. Aramark plans on increasing their workforce to around 700 to meet the demand.
Resident district manager of Aramark, Scott Lamond, explained that their operations were too small last year so were running slower than they liked. With their projected influx of new employees, it could mean they have too many employees next year, but they’re ready to tweak things as they need. This way they are more prepared to handle the new influx of students.

According to Lamond, students are constantly on the move, so the food options on campus have to evolve to meet an ever-changing demand.

“The population we are feeding is larger than ever before. This year, we sold more voluntary meal plans than ever before. 60-65 percent of the students here are on meal plans. We have to make sure we have enough vendors to meet those numbers,” said Lamond.

A full-service Chick-fil-A will be taking the place of McAlister’s Deli in the fall this year. Photo by Brandon Key.

According to Lamond, the current most popular food venues on campus are Starbucks and Chick-fil-A, which lead to the decision to change operations of these two organizations in the fall.

Moe’s, Chick-fil-A and Starbucks are our top three brands. The sales in our current Starbucks show we need another Starbucks. Chick-fil-A has the highest volume of retail on campus, and it operates in the smallest footprint on campus, so there are times we don’t have the equipment or the space to keep up with the volume,” explained Lamond.

Papa Johns will continue to deliver on campus and be used for catering and concessions, but will not be the current form of a front-facing pick-up and go restaurant. Aramark is also looking at possibly bringing Papa Johns to the convenience stores on campus.

The sushi and other food items currently available in the University Center will be available in the convenience stores on campus. Einstein Bagels will stay where it is, but the rest of the food court at the University Center will be used as office space, as Keith Corzaine explained.

A big and successful change in the food offering on campus is the new Chili’s restaurant. Since it’s opening at the start of the spring semester the restaurant is constantly full. As Lamond explained, the addition of Chili’s, a major restaurant brand, lets WCU cover all of the food basics. Read more about Chili’s in Amber Degree’s story, “Chili’s is ‘heating’ up on WCU campus.”

A major concern for Aramark and the food managers on campus is safety and speed of service to satisfy a large student population. Aramark aimed to make progress this year towards speeding up production and satisfying their large customer base.

To address the safety Aramark started enforcing regulation that was existing previously but not enforced strictly. Student organizations felt the change – on their fundraising activities. Read more about it in Brandon Key’s, Austin McDowell’s and Gavin Stewart’s story, “Aramark’s new policy affects fundraising; students react.”

Tapingo was established last spring as a way to help push customers through food services. Between 1300-1600 orders a week are placed using Tapingo at WCU, according to Lamond. It is a phone app that lets customers pre-order food and then bypass the wait time. The new full-service Chick-fil-A will allow the use of Tapingo.

With an increase in food services on campus comes an increase in cost for students.

To help pay for the fall food changes, meal plan prices will be increasing in the next school year starting in August. Back in December, 2016, the Board of Trustees approved a 3.25 percent price increase in student meal plans to help meet the rising cost of food venues on campus. But, in an effort to expand and speed up food operations without increasing cost too much, something on campus, McAlister’s Deli, had to be cut.

“We can’t constantly raise the prices of food tremendously. With all of the expansion coming to Western, we have to get smaller in a place or two. We can’t operate all of the venues and then not expect to raise the cost of dining. I don’t want to raise the cost of food too much, so something had to go,” said Keith Corzine, assistant vice chancellor for campus services.

N.C. Promise when it begins in 2018 could potentially affect the cost of food and meal plans in the future.

“Any type of legislature or political trend at any given time could impact us. But, fundamentally, it’s about trying to give students the best programs, both housing and dining, for the most effective cost. With all of these things coming, we’re suddenly at a point where we’re not so concerned about the future; it’s going to be more about the labor market and cost of food at that time,” said Corzine.

For more information about all the new restaurants on campus, student issues and hidden student fees check out the student project WCU: the good, the bad and the ugly.