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Sodexho To-Go meals to spread nationally

If you have stopped by the Dining Commons sometime in the past few months, you may have noticed an odd assortment of food and beverages organized just a few feet away from the register. Take one of each and stuff it in a lunch bag, and you’ve got the new popular meal that will soon sweep the nation: a Sodexho To-Go Meal!

Whether you’re a fan or not, statistics show you or someone you know opted to take a To-Go meal instead of eating in the Dining Commons.

Production Manager and District Executive Chef Mark Hinkle and Retail Supervisor and Eastern alum Steve Jacke are thrilled about the new service.

“We’ve been bragging about To-Go meals to the heads of Sodexho,” Jacke said.

The To-Go meal is now an option for on-campus students with a meal plan. Students tell the register operator that they will be getting a To-Go meal, swipe their E-card, then choose a salad, wrap or sandwich for the main course and a piece of fruit and chips for sides.

According to Hinkle and Jacke, Eastern is the first university of its kind to provide a food service like the To-Go meal. The only similar program that either had heard of was at Brigham Young University, a significantly larger and more affluent college.

The concept of the To-Go meal, which has evolved through several names such as Smart Market and Dining Commons To-Go, was hatched by a team of Eastern’s dining staff at a weekly meeting.

The team thought that the To-Go meal would be successful because many students with 4:30 classes complain that they don’t have time to eat dinner.

Also, the Breezeway, a highly successful on-campus food venue that enables students to take food on the go, has proven popular over the years. But would a similar fast-food-type meal be equally appealing from the Dining Commons? Apparently, it is.

“Students like it and enjoy the freedom,” Jacke said.

Also, space in the Dining Commons has been dwindling as student body numbers continue to burgeon, and lack of space will likely only worsen once Eagle Hall opens and all students are required to live on campus and sign up for a meal plan.

The To-Go meal is an effective way to curtail growing numbers of students filling the Dining Commons during lunch and dinner, according to Hinkle and Jacke.

It seems that all of Sodexho’s management’s bragging has paid off. Several big-time food service executives have visited Eastern in the past few weeks to investigate the success of Eastern’s new fast-food-service. Sodexho’s upper-management was so impressed that the company will be introducing the service nationwide as early as fall semester 2007.

Before the plan is introduced at a national level, some minute changes may be made to the service, such as the name or varieties of food, according to Hinkle and Jacke.

“We’re really excited about the kind of impact this thing could have,” Hinkle said.

The To-Go meal is not without its challenges. According to Hinkle, finding room to store products, time for preparation, space to prepare meals and sometimes selling out of chips or sodas have all been obstacles.

But a few speed bumps along the way haven’t squelched the ambitions of the Eastern dining staff. What started as a one-week rotation of food choices, such as honey mustard chicken wraps on Tuesdays and spicy buffalo chicken wraps on Thursdays, quickly became the current two-week rotation.

If all goes as planned, Jacke said, “it will eventually become a 6-week rotation. Some basic staples will stay the same everyday, like the turkey wrap, but many more will be introduced!”

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