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University News

Dining Services hires ‘pro’ consultant

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 13, 2011

Brown Dining Services has hired an outside consultant to lead student focus groups and make suggestions for a new communications strategy. The consultant, Tina Ilar, began work in September.

The number of meal plan subscribers has fallen this semester, but the decision to bring in a consultant is not related to the decrease, according to Ann Hoffman, director of administration for Dining Services.

“We typically capture a pretty consistent and a pretty high proportion of the students in residence,” Hoffman said. At least 95 percent of students living on campus are on meal plan every year, she added.

“It’s almost impossible to be off meal plan in Keeney,” said Jacqueline Wooley ’13.

Hoffman said the decline could be attributed to fewer students living on campus.

The idea of bringing in a communications consultant has been under discussion for a long time, Hoffman said. Dining Services decided to hire the consultant, who has worked with other schools, such as Pennsylvania State University, to get a “fresh perspective” on what students don’t know about meal plan offerings, she said.

“We do a lot of things that I don’t think students are necessarily aware of,” she said.

The consultant led focus groups and asked students if expanding into social media through Twitter and Facebook would make BDS information more accessible to students, Hoffman said.

Ilar “seems like a pro,” said Aaron Fitzsenry, culinary manager of retail operations, who started a Twitter account for the Blue Room last year. Right now there are no marketing experts working on dining services communication, only staff and student employees, he said.

Hoffman said she hears “through the grapevine” that many students don’t know about specials or events. She has heard that some people don’t know the Ivy Room exists, she said.

But perhaps more communication is not necessary. “I do the same thing every day anyway,” said Allison Bloom ’14, adding she was not aware of the Dining Services website until recently.

Other students who check the website for daily menus said increasing communication may not be as relevant as simply updating the existing channels. Laura Curlin ’13 suggested Dining Services make menus clearer and put daily options on its home page.

Some students also complained that logistical changes should be better communicated. “They really should have alerted people about the change in meal credit prices,” said Naveed Jooma ’13. Meal credit values increased this semester from $6.15 to $6.40, along with the cost of meal plans.

— With additional reporting by William Underwood

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