Dining halls cater to community members, reduce student costs

Dominic Binkley and Dominic Binkley

Students aren’t the only people lining up to pile food on their plates at University dining halls.

Ever since The Oaks and Carillon Place opened their doors in 2011, more members of the community have been choosing to eat their meals on campus.

Dining Services has used a “deliberate strategy” during the past two years to expose dining halls as viable options to community members, said Mike Paulus, director of Dining Services.

Before The Oaks complex, it was a challenge to get community members to eat on campus because of a lack of parking, Paulus said. The location of The Oaks at the corner of campus and the addition of more parking has led to an increase in community members, he said.

Dunkin’ Donuts has also helped attract members of the community who make up 32 percent of the restaurant’s sales, he said.

Paulus said community members allow dining halls to serve a “12-month function” because there are so few students on campus during the summer. Dining Services would be a 12-month business with only nine months of income if it weren’t for community members.

Community members also help keep meal costs down for students, he said.

“If I can increase the overall revenue to Dining Services on campus, I reduce the need to increase costs to my residents,” he said.

Magdy AbouZied, general manager of The Oaks Dining Center, said the quality and value of the food plus the atmosphere of the dining halls is why he now sees members of the community eating at The Oaks on a daily basis.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce, employees from the court house and bank workers, as well as a local priest are just some of the frequent community visitors to campus dining halls, he said.

Rev. Jason Kahle, pastor of St. Thomas More University Parish, said his favorite place to eat on campus is The Oaks.

“It’s very reasonable for all the buffets, pizza, salad, soup and sandwiches and everything else that’s underneath the sun,” he said. “You can’t go wrong with the price and you can’t go wrong with the variety.”

Paulus said he has made booster seats and children’s pricing available for the first time at any college campus he has worked at because of the amount of community members who use the facilities. He has also had a few community members purchase meal plans.

“We sold a meal plan to an elderly couple that lived across the street,” Paulus said. “They actually came in here for their dinner meals because it was a great value for them. They didn’t have to shop, they didn’t have to clean and they had their 60th wedding anniversary here.”

AbouZied said Dining Services also receives many reservations in the spring from community members who want to participate in the Easter brunch buffet at The Oaks.

Encouraging community members to eat on campus isn’t just about the revenue, it’s about involvement, he said.

“We like to market our facilities with the community. Not just to bring them here to generate revenue, but to involve them in what we’re doing here with the students,” AbouZied said. “The University is the heart of this community so it’s really good to get them engaged in what we’re doing.”