Hope Commons at URI wins grand prize in national collegiate food service competition

Posted on
KINGSTON, R.I. – July 16, 2009 – Imagine the University of Rhode Island defeating the Big Ten’s University of Michigan in a contest, or for that matter the University of Georgia of Southeastern Conference fame.

The University’s Hope Commons dining center did just that in a competition run by the National Association of College and University Food Services, the leading national trade group for college food services. URI won the Loyal E. Horton Dining Gold Award in the large school division of the residence hall dining—multiple concepts/outlets category. The University also won the grand prize in the category, which includes medium and small schools.

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst won the silver medal and the University of Michigan captured the bronze. Miami University, the University of Georgia and the University of Cincinnati earned honorable mentions.

Hope Commons, which has drawn interest from schools in many parts of the country, features a main dining hall with multiple stations featuring hundreds of food choices, a retail operation that features Starbucks coffee, pastries, brick oven pizza, ice cream, pizza and special entertainment events, and a convenience store that was named “the Best in the Business” by the same national food services association in spring 2008.

That year, the Corner Store at Hope Commons was the only one in the nation to receive such a designation in the product variety category.

As part of this year’s competition, URI’s Dining Services submitted a large glossy, photo-filled binder that highlighted its food offerings, menu selection, merchandising, marketing and overall presentation in all three of its units.

“We hit a home run with Hope Commons, and the national association agreed,” said Steve Mello, interim director of Dining Services. “This was especially gratifying when we saw who we defeated. It’s also gratifying when you beat one of your sister schools (UMass). This award says so much about our staff and the work that goes into this operation.”

Last year Dining Services entered the contest and earned an honorable mention. This year, Mello said staff members submitted an updated contest book that incorporated lessons learned from last year’s entry. The new book included presentations of eye-catching brochures and advertisements for special events, vibrant photos of foods and marketing efforts for movie nights and Guitar Hero competitions in Rhody Market, as well as theme dinners and other special promotions.

During the early summer, a few hundred freshmen orientation students buzzed around the dining center while Mello described some of its features, including the different design and furniture elements that add to the atmosphere. “In our Mainfare dining area, it’s more cooked to order, everything is pushed from the kitchen out front. Instead of (the older method of having) a lot of staff being in the back of house, everyone is now pushed forward, so a cook becomes a server. Staff members get to meet and greet the students. A special rapport is built.”

It’s common for staff and students to be on a first-name basis after just a few weeks.

Parents and students were all in agreement that Hope Commons deserves national recognition as a premier residential dining and retail food operation.

Samantha Freire, of Roselle Park, N.J., was at Hope Commons’ Mainfare during freshman orientation. She was pleased with the entire dining operation, even the mechanism used to collect waste and dirty dishes. “I love the part where you put your plates on the conveyor belt and it just goes, so I don’t have to clean up. All the food varieties are awesome. You can’t get sick of all the food here. There’s pasta, fried foods, subs.”

Freshman student Amanda Norman of South Kingstown, who was on campus for summer classes, didn’t expect the dining experience to be so good. “There is a lot of food, a lot of choices. The facility is clean, it’s a nice environment. I like how it is set up.”

William Cawley, of North Kingstown, a freshman majoring in civil engineering, said he likes the mix of food offerings. “The staff is really friendly too, they are quick, and they are always there if I have a question.”

He gives Hope Commons an A-plus. “This place is gorgeous. I mean, you don’t see cafeterias like this anyplace.”

David Bergeron and his wife, Judy of Gloucester, Mass., enjoyed a cup of Starbucks coffee in the Rhody Market while waiting for the next phase of parent orientation to begin. “As we walked in the entryway and took a peek into the seating area as we got our cups of coffee, our jaws dropped. I said ‘Is this for the students’,” David said. “Judy said, ‘Is this for the kids?’ Who would want to leave this place? It has everything you could find in a big city or a mall. They are able to serve hundreds of different choices at once. It’s unbelievable.”