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Hot Concepts! 2011: FöD

Campus dining gets an update with digital ordering, made-to-order meals

Last week, NRN introduced the 2011 Hot Concepts! award winners. The Hot Concepts! awards are given each year by Nation’s Restaurant News to young, growing chains that embody the perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit of the restaurant industry. This week, find out more about each of the five concepts who were able to identify and capitalize upon opportunities in their markets across varying cuisine, service style and formality. Today's winner spotlight is on FöD.

Concept snapshot
Concept name: FöD
Owner: Sodexo

Gaithersburg, Md.
Year founded: 2010

Segment: college and university dining

No. of units: 
6 U.S. campuses

States where located: California, Illinois, New York, Vermont
Systemwide sales: undisclosed

Average unit volume: N/A

Average check: N/A 

Target markets: universities in Kentucky, Missouri

Method of growth/funding: available to Sodexo’s 600 college and university clients
Vision: highly customizable college dining program that replicates the restaurant experience

College students accustomed to a high-tech, customizable world are getting a taste of that lifestyle in the dining rooms at a handful of campuses across the country. 

FöD, short for Food on Demand, which operates at six colleges and universities, aims to blend the customization and food quality of a restaurant with the speed and efficiency that students and staff expect from a dining hall.

Guests place their orders on touch-screen kiosks, watch their food being made to order and are alerted via their smart phones or a pager when their food is ready.

“It has dynamically changed the dining experience for the guest,” said Jeff Pente, senior director of brand management for Gaithersburg, Md.-based Sodexo, which operates the concept. “Before, students dropped their books and went on line. Now, students come in, place their order on a touch screen, and then drop their books and get a drink or soup, and hang out a few minutes before they are buzzed that their food is ready. Nobody is doing anything like this in the [college campus] marketplace.”

FöD is in place at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.; Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.; Academy of Art University in San Francisco; and the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt.

The first FöD program debuted last year, and three more colleges are slated to start FöD programs this year, Pente said.

FöD features daily selections from a library of more than 400 recipes that run the gamut from healthful vegetable pita plates to pub grub like onion rings. More than 80 countries’ cuisines are represented, including exclusive menus by chef-restaurateurs Mai Pham, who created a Vietnamese and Thai menu, and Roberto Santibañez, who designed high-end Mexican dishes. 

“It’s like the Food Network on campus compared to what was there before,” Pente said.

There is no additional cost for students and staff on meal plans to visit FöD rather than conventional campus dining halls. The concept serves an average of 500 diners each meal, and the average ticket time is six to seven minutes, including the three minutes or so it takes to cook a student’s meal, Pente said. 

“The dining halls feel like mass-produced meals, but [with FöD], every meal you get is made to order,” said Shannon Hitchcock, an assistant dean who lives and works at Rensselaer.

FöD does not cost any more to operate than a conventional college dining operation, said Tom Post, Sodexo division president, adding that food waste is reduced by 5 percent to 15 percent because students are getting only what they requested.

While most campus dining halls are in the 10,000-square-foot range, FöD requires a footprint of one-fourth that size. FöD also requires a smaller staff — about 15 total employees, Pente added.

FöD also puts a premium on its staff interacting with students.

“Long gone are the days when the chefs are hiding behind the doors,” said Jackie Baldwin, executive chef of the FöD program at Rensselaer. “You’re right there engaging with the students. You’re there asking, ‘What did you like?’ or ‘What changes would you like to see?’

“That’s what drives satisfaction,” Baldwin said.

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].

Tomorrow: Mixt Greens and True Food Kitchen

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