Constantly adjusting menus, rearranging facilities and putting a fresh, tasty twist on holiday celebrations, some new Chartwells staff members have been hard at work this school year to add more flavor to the Saint Louis University dining experience.
SLU Chartwells Director Cathy Causey and Marketing Director Mary Dunn began working at the University this past August. Over the past eight months, the two have attempted to lead Billiken Dining into a new era. They said that creativity, sustainability and student relationships are their top priorities.
“We want people to be proud of the dining on campus and have a part in it,” said Causey.
As the new director, she has placed community engagement on the front burner.
“I make lists [of possible new events] every night,” said Causey.
Chartwells hosts at least one “holiday,” contest or celebration every week. Highlights from this year include the Friday Grill Series outside Terra Ve, the street food festival in the quad, the Thanksgiving and the Valentine’s Day buffets in the Wool Ballrooms, midnight breakfasts in Fusz, taco eating contests in Salsarita’s and a chili cook-off in Griesedieck.
Chartwells has also co-sponsored events with several student organizations, including KSLU, Student Activities Board and Elevation.
Desiring to spice up the daily dining experience, the new front office staff said they are open to all feedback and ideas.
“We’re always looking for what’s new and what’s next,” said Dunn.
As the director of marketing, Dunn manages Billiken Dining’s Facebook, Twitter, website and email surveys.
“You [students] have a bigger voice than you think you do,” she said.
Dunn and Causey meet biweekly with the Student Government Association Food Committee to discuss with students how Billiken Dining can continue to accommodate, improve and impress.
After SLU students began requesting more eco-friendly services, Chartwells introduced the new reusable to-go containers. Billiken Dining has sold more than 2,000 since January, according to Causey.
Chartwells has also installed feedback dry-erase boards in the freshman dining halls, inviting students to write down suggestions to improve their experience. Causey and Dunn said that they have been able to accommodate almost every request.
Apparently impressed with Chartwells’ response, a student playfully wrote on the board “Now all we need is tablecloths and candles!”
Students desiring healthier food options have been attending the new Friday Grill Series, farmers’ markets and organic selection days. Chartwell’s Campus Executive Chef Daniel Conniff said he purchases locally grown produce, vegetables and meats from Missouri and Illinois farms whenever possible.
“We change the menus up seasonally,” Conniff said. “We like to provide ‘all-natural’ salads at Sliders in Fusz whenever we can.”
Conniff, Causey and Dunn also work together to hire skilled and personable kitchen staff to further ensure a welcoming environment for students. Personality is big in the hiring process, according to Causey.
“You want someone who can interact and relate in this environment,” she said.
Coniff agreed, adding that personable employees add to the student dining experience.
“Winning personalities go a long way,” Conniff added. “You want students to feel as close to home as possible.”
All three front office staff members said that employees Ms. Mae and Tony add more flavor to Griesedieck than any food item or special event ever could.
Some of the changes Causey and Dunn have made to the dining services are subtle. The team visits each facility at least once a week to brainstorm what they could improve. The two often rearrange dining hall setups to offer smoother, quicker and more convenient visits for students.
The greatest lesson that the executive staff said they have learned this year is that SLU students want to be involved.
“They’re interested in a personal relationship with us,” Causey said. “You all are extremely friendly.”
She said she has been impressed by how easy it has been to establish relationships here at SLU compared to her experiences at other college campuses.
“Our doors are always open to students,” Causey said.
The new Chartwells Billiken Dining executive staff members look forward to applying next year what they have learned from their first SLU experiences.
“We spend the entire summer planning the coming year,” Dunn said. “We’re not OK with the status quo.”
Causey, Dunn and Conniff said they are excited to further strengthen the relationship between Chartwells and the student body during the 2012-2013 school year.