Students give the food high ratings. While a 1998 Sodexho survey of meal plan participants found a satisfaction rating of 85 percent, that number has been increasing and reached 97 percent this year. Of the 97 percent, 73 percent rated their satisfaction as “highly satisfied.”
“We’re going through a renaissance…in hospitality,’’ says Peter Baldwin, a junior who is president of the Rensselaer Union.
In the Great Hall area of the Darrin Communications Center (DCC), where a coffee cart once stood, Sodexho has opened Jazzman’s Café, featuring a vibrant color scheme, dozens of sandwiches, and an arsenal of coffees with names such as Very Vanilla Javanilla and Chocolate Toffee. Jazzman’s is targeted to a generation weaned on 24-hour cable, espresso beverages, and high-speed Internet service wired and wireless.
“There is a whole change in society,’’ says Kathy Edick, Rensselaer’s director of auxiliary services. “When I was a student everyone went home at 5 o’clock and had dinner together. Breakfast was at 7. Expectations have changed. These students are sophisticated.”
Open for Business
“It’s very academic here. There are not a lot of amenities,” says Bouqata. “There are so many places along Congress Street where RPI could put in shops and restaurants. The potential is there.”
Rensselaer is beginning to tap that potential. At 15th Street and College Avenue, Java ++ has just opened in a former T-shirt shop. The coffeehouse, the first college-owned, off-campus eatery, will operate no less than 14 hours a day, offering a different lineup of foods and beverages from what is served on campus, along with wireless Internet access.
Lauren Schneider, a junior who took part in the planning, hopes the coffeehouse becomes a place to not only open the laptop but also play music and read poetry. “I live off campus,” she says. “When I used to go to the dining halls it was nice to gather to eat dinner. If you aren’t doing that I’m not sure what else brings you together with other people outside of classes.”
Rensselaer also wants the general public to patronize the student-named Java++, whose menu features salads, smoothies, sandwiches, baked goods, and organic soup a vegetarian and protein option every day. Students can get caffeinated for those long nights of studying on Peet’s coffees and teas.
“We will have a full espresso program here,” says David Gaul, marketing director for Hospitality Services at Rensselaer.
Espresso, smoothies, free-trade shade-grown coffee, chai, vegetarian and vegan entrees, and a host of organic dishes are now common offerings on campus. Each day, Rensselaer students can find Asian meals, Middle Eastern meals, burgers and fries, gluten-free dishes, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and Starbucks beverages until 2 a.m.
While student input is important, these days market research is not limited to slips of paper dropped into comment boxes. Today, “psychographic” data is used to study eating habits and preferences.
“We have a program called ‘lifestyling,’ where we use zip codes to do a study of people’s habits,’’ says Vicki Dunn, senior director of marketing for Sodexho Campus Services. “Every one of us is in a cluster that is our zip code.”
Clusters reveal a great deal about how people spend their time and what they like. They determine how many eaters stick to meat and potatoes; how many are open to trying sushi or fried tofu. Rensselaer is also engaged in “mapping,” collecting data based on foot traffic in venues throughout the campus at different hours of the day.
With students from more than 70 countries, Rensselaer also must take into consideration diverse food traditions and religious requirements. The population of non-native students, which began rising a decade ago, now accounts for 4.1 percent of undergraduates and 55 percent of graduate students.
“It’s challenging to try to create the right kind of hospitality setting,” Dunn says. “We’re really serious about it.”
The process alone would make yesterday’s graduates dizzy. Then again, they weren’t thinking self-serve Halal, anytime breakfast, cyberwraps, or vitamin water.
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