Go Big. Go Bold. A Tale of Choices at University of Rhode Island
How do you scale your dining program without raising the prices of meals plans? Three years ago, Steve Mello pondered the question at the University of Rhode Island, devised an inspired plan, and has been growing ever since. Quite simply, Mello decided to offer more meal plan options, at more locations, in more interactive ways. And it worked.
Standard. Plus. Premiere. All tiers of meal plan options offered for resident students at URI. Each offers unlimited visits to the campus' two main dining halls; however, upgrading to Plus also gets a student three Grab-n-Go Combo meals per day from on-campus locations. But wait? Wouldn't students quite literally eat away at any profit margin Mello has? As it turns out, no one can possibly eat that much. Students weren't craving more food, they were just craving more options.
The Grab-n-Go meals help diffuse lines in the traditional dining halls during peak hours by driving business to on campus retail outlets, but they also offer students an on-campus alternative to fast food. The industry assumption is that all these options compete with each other, but they don't—it's all the same team. Together they provide a holistic approach to campus dining.
But he didn't stop with the Grab-n-Go option: Upgrading to Premiere allows the student the option to eat at select off campus locations.
Two dining halls. Five on-campus concepts. Twenty-five off-campus merchants. All accepting meals plans or URI flex dollars—called 'Ram Account'. In addition to on and off campus meal locations, students can use the Ram Account at the library, copiers, printers, chemistry stockrooms, vending machines, and laundry. The multitude of locations makes the RAM card all the more valuable—which in turn has started to drive deposits.
An Interactive Dining Experience
Mello and his team developed an app that actively promotes the dining facilities—giving students access to daily menus, promotions, and installed web-cams where students can see lines and crowds in popular dining facilities. The app also links to the GETTM mobile app, where students can manage their accounts and place online orders. Mello also utilizes social media to great effect to connect with students.
So what's next for Mello and URI dining? Mello aims to add additional retail locations on campus, and to grow his off-campus program. Mello's creative packaging of URI's meal plans allowed him to go big and go bold and it has paid off!