The University’s dining hall has lost hundreds of customers this academic year, a drop that administrators said is mostly because of the “superdorm” construction that has taken three nearby residence halls offline.
Nancy Haaga, director of campus support services, said J Street’s customer base took a hit after the buildings – located just steps away from the Marvin Center – were emptied this fall.
“Definitely the construction with the three halls going offline right in back of us, you can only imagine how convenient it was for people living in those halls to hop over to J Street,” Haaga said.
GW officials have declined to provide sales information since 2012, citing a confidentiality stipulation in the University’s contract with food provider Sodexo. But Haaga said the hall has lost “several hundred customers.”
Bernadette Thomas, campus dining general manager, said construction has most impacted J Street’s late-night traffic.
“We would have students come over and hit Auntie Anne’s late in the evening for snacks, so we’ve seen some sales drop there,” Thomas said.
After years of student complaints, GW nixed mandatory J Street dining plans for sophomores in 2011. Sophomores now pay $2,500 each academic year for GWorld money, which they can use at venues around campus. That plan drops to $2,000 for juniors and $1,000 for seniors. Students who live off campus are not required to purchase a plan.
Haaga added that while fewer students are passing through J Street, customers are buying more food. The hall’s check average has increased this academic year, she said.
GW introduced voluntary dining plans this fall, giving students who purchase between $100 and $500 an additional $10 to $100 bonus.
“So we feel pretty confident in how we’re trending. I mean we definitely have more capacity in J Street to serve more customers, so it’s important to us to try a variety of different and interesting ways to entice people to come in,” Haaga said.
The University has tested multiple strategies to draw students to Sodexo-run venues, scrapping fast food vendors such as Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A. Auntie Anne’s pretzel shop, J Street’s newest vendor, opened in fall 2012.
J Street held an indoor farmers’ market with fresh produce Wednesday – part of an effort to build excitement about the dining hub.
Food for the farmers’ market – including apples, oranges, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, zucchini and squash – came from J Street’s produce supplier, the same company that works with Whole Foods, at wholesale prices. The market is also aimed at upperclassmen, who can cook in their residence hall kitchens.
“We have a great facility, we have great offerings and we just want to serve the student community, the faculty, staff, and create different events to break up the monotony,” Thomas said.
Haaga said Vietnamese eatery BONMi will get a facelift later this month, with officials planning to blow up menu boards to create a “friendlier customer experience.” The campus dining Facebook page and Twitter account will include posts that announce deals such as $5 sandwiches and a free piece of pizza with the purchase of one slice.
Dining services has also organized music performances in Columbian Square, the hall’s seating area.
“We’re no different than any other restaurant. To a large extent, we’re all competing for the lunch dollar. We’re all competing for the business dollar. We’re all competing for the coffee break dollar,” Haaga said. “We’re not Whole Foods, we’re not a lot of things, but what we are is we have a unique location on our campus.”