Behind the scenes at Virginia Tech is a culinary experience unlike one found at similar institutions. Over the years, Virginia Tech Housing and Dining Services has earned its place among some of the world’s most recognized restaurants, making campus dining a sought-after experience for its students.
Housing and Dining Services, a department within the Division of Student Affairs, has been recognized for its programming, venues, and service. In spring 2009, Restaurants & Institutions magazine recognized the dining program with the Ivy Award, a mark of distinction for the best restaurant operations in the industry, not just college dining.
Students and visitors agree that Virginia Tech dining is unlike a typical college dining experience, but it takes more than good food. Student satisfaction is one of the key elements to success.
“When our students talk, we listen,” said Rick Johnson, director of Housing and Dining Services. “Last year we sold an unprecedented 9,400 off-campus dining plans. It’s really a testament to the value our students place on a dining program that respects their opinions and exceeds their dining needs. Unlike many other universities, we don’t contract our dining services to a third-party operation. We’ve built our dining program from the ground up, and we’re incredibly proud of our management and employees for their vision and leadership.”
Johnson also noted that the dining program adheres to a strict set of restaurant quality standards. Virginia Tech’s dining program consistently receives some of the highest food safety inspection scores from the Virginia Department of Health.
With more than 1,300 dedicated staff members, keeping food safe is a large undertaking. All new dining staff members complete a comprehensive food safety training program. This program illustrates the commitment Dining Services makes to the staff and the customers it serves.
Employees are also trained on the values of the dining program and the importance of great customer service. Such standards minimize potential food-related risks to customers and provide dining staff with confidence and high morale.
An employee incentive program features a series of events and training sessions to reward and thank the staff members for their contributions to the program’s success.
As the largest employer of students at the university, Virginia Tech Dining Services encourages student staff members to take on leadership roles. This opportunity allows students to earn money and gain experience that will aid them academically, while helping to prepare them for future careers. Many have gone on to work in hospitality management — some even at Virginia Tech.
Each morning before dawn, a food procession and preparation crew at the Southgate Food Center prepares the vast array of food offerings for the 11 dining centers across campus.
“It’s exciting to contribute to the award-winning food service provided by our dining program,” said Anthony Purcell, senior unit manager of the Southgate Food Center. “It’s a reflection of the visionary guidance and support of our senior leadership.”
Virginia Tech Dining Services serves up a variety of fine-dining food options not often found at other institutions. Besides the always-tasty burger and fries available in several dining centers, students and guests also have their choice of whole Maine lobster, ribeye steak, wood-fired pizza from West End Market, sushi, and other made-to-order items. The dining program also roasts its own coffee, has an entire shop dedicated to the needs of vegetarian and vegan diners, and a shop serving locally grown, natural, and organic foods.
Virginia Tech Dining Services also offers national brands, such as Chick-Fil-A, Pizza Hut, and Sbarro. For special events, dining provides both elegant and casual meals through its on-campus catering service, Personal Touch Catering.
A combination of all of these factors helps make Virginia Tech Dining Services an award-winning program. ”It’s the people and our continual emphasis on quality and innovation. It’s the whole package,” Johnson said.
Flank steak is the most ordered food item at Virginia Tech. Dining services orders about 44,000 pounds a year.
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