Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
August 27, 1999

Union, residence food services to merge

by Anne Dolan
President Martin Jischke has approved a recommendation to merge the food service operations of the Memorial Union and the residence department, and directed vice presidents Tom Hill (student affairs) and Warren Madden (business and finance) to develop a specific proposal and implementation plan by next June.

The merger concept first was recommended in March 1998 by two consulting groups after several months of reviewing the food operations of the Memorial Union and residence department. Hill and Madden endorsed the recommendation last semester after months of their own study and campus input, and forwarded it to Jischke, who also approved it this summer.

The Memorial Union board of directors and residence department officials studied and endorsed the merger idea this spring.

Madden said the complexity of the two existing units, including the fact that both carry a large debt due to significant building projects and both use food revenues to support non-food services, makes the merger "complicated."

"It will take some time to accomplish this," he said.

Jim Huss, hotel, restaurant and institutional management faculty member and president of the Memorial Union board of directors last year, said board members and ISU administrators seem to agree that the Union's first priority will remain unchanged -- to support student programs. How to do that is the challenge, he said. Coordination of the space in the Memorial Union, as well as a financial arrangement that doesn't damage either unit, are issues that need to be resolved, Huss said.

Senior Ryan Sievers, who heads the Union's board of directors this year and served as vice president last year, said he's convinced students will benefit from the change in the long run.

"In this attempt to better serve students -- which we really like -- the board wants to make sure it doesn't hurt the other student services there," he said.

About 90 percent of the 300-plus meeting room reservations every week at the Memorial Union are for student organizations, he noted.

Two models
The new auxiliary food service will be a self-supporting unit. It will operate existing Memorial Union food services, the residence dining centers and all vending and catering services on campus, as well as convenience store and dining options planned for the future. It will not include the athletic department's concessions contract with Marriott at the football stadium or Ogden Allied's concession contracts in Hilton Coliseum. Beyond that, the operating structure has not been determined yet.

Hill and Madden said they are studying two models for implementing the change:

Regardless of the model selected, some of the goals of the merger, they said, are to improve food choices and locations available to the Iowa State community, give residence hall students freedom to eat when and where it's convenient for them, improve campus catering options and improve the efficiency of campus food services. A new service could include options such as cooked-to-order food, convenience store and take-out service, and extended hours.

Madden also said that regardless of the model selected, existing staff and student employees will have jobs. He said that similar large-scale changes at other universities actually have resulted in growth and more job opportunities.

Residence department director Randy Alexander said that to be truly customer-oriented, the university needs to complete the merger. As part of its master planning process, the department included questions about food preferences in a student survey.

"Students, or any other diners, really don't care about management structure. They're just looking for high quality food and convenience, and this change should be a real plus for them," he said.

Alexander noted that at this point on the timeline, when details of the merger haven't been decided, the idea causes uncertainty, especially about inevitable changes to the financial structure of the two existing units.

"It's not an insurmountable problem, though," he added.

"One size" no longer the ticket
Hill said diversifying food service on campus fits in with the residence department's master plan to offer different kinds of student housing.

"We know that one size doesn't fit all," he said. "And we know that we have to stay flexible. Once you've made today's students happy, you can't sit back. As eating patterns change, we have to change with them."

Madden and Hill said their year of study most likely will re-involve the food service consulting team hired two years ago. They said they also probably will assemble a campus advisory committee to assist as they develop a plan. Members of the university community also may send suggestions directly to Hill ( or Madden (

Diana Pounds, University Relations,
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