Campus diners lack late night appetite

Late night dining is still attracting only a fraction of the business it would need to sustain itself, about a quarter of what the program needs to break even.

By Hans Glick

Although more students are turning out for late-night dining at Hutch as the quarter moves on, the program is still attracting only a fraction of the business it would need to sustain itself, according to data from last year’s pilot project.

Late-night dining at Hutch, which includes breakfast meals, pizza, and subs offered Monday through Thursday from 9 p.m. to midnight, needs around 200 transactions each night to break even. Though the number of recorded transactions is growing, only 234 were made during all of fourth week, Director of Campus Dining Richard Mason said, or an average of 60 transactions a night. Late night dining is offered four nights a week.

But compared to the 179 transactions made during second week, the 30 percent growth in turnout suggests hope for the program. “Steady growth is what I would characterize it as,” said Mason, who chairs the Campus Dining Advisory Board (CDAB) responsible for developing the program. “If it were to continue on that trend, it seems like we’ll get there.”

When late-night dining options were first offered at Hutch during a one-week pilot program in the spring, turnout didn’t reach the target number to continue the program. Despite the underwhelming response, CDAB decided to reintroduce the program for the current school year to meet the campus need for dining open past 9 p.m.

“Obviously there is a significant difference between the pilot and our experience to this point,” said Mason, adding that the pilot averaged 148 transactions, two-and-a-half times more than the current numbers, each night.

But he added that profitability might have to take the backseat this year as the program addresses long-standing campus needs. “[Late-night dining] is a consistent issue, an important issue.. . We try to look at it in its totality,” Mason said.

“If we could average somewhere between 150 and 200 [students] a night—that would be ideal. If the number settled lower than that but was consistent, I think we could then evaluate it within the broader context of the type of services offered.”

But if demand for late-night dining at Hutch doesn’t pick up, the financial viability of the program may be called into question, Mason said.

Although Student Government has been spearheading the program, they’re not involved with making up the lost profits. “Aramark and dining services seems to be committed to carrying out these services for the year,” ORCSA director Sharlene Holly said. “We’re an important contract to them.”

Mason said the main problem was a lack of awareness. “Right now I don’t think we’ve got the word out yet,” he said. While word of mouth has played a part in the growth of Hutch late-night dining to date, Mason said that a marketing campaign based on student input is in the works for later this year.

Once interest in the program has grown sufficiently, CDAB will consider tweaking the food offerings themselves. So far, Subway has been the most popular option. Coming in at number two are the breakfast items, which Mason described as “doing OK.”

Sales at the grill station, on the other hand, are lagging. CDAB monitors student opinion on the types of products being offered through surveys and focus groups, Mason said.

Mason said some students would like Hutch to be open even later into the evening. While further extending Hutch’s hours would help those burning the midnight oil, Mason cautions that doing so would pose a number of logistical and personnel problems. It’s a question of “how late is late, and what’s the demand at that level?” Mason said.

–Additional reporting by Adam Janofsky