Eat and be merry: student participation at Cowan on the rise
August 22, 2013 By Elizabeth Trollinger
Manager Mike Nagorka. "The relationships built at the dining
hall are some of the best and long-lasting foundations of friendship
during the college years and beyond."
During the 2012-13 academic year, almost 40,000 pieces of pizza
were served at Cowan Dining Commons.
When it comes to dining at Centre College, there's only one place to be: Cowan, Centre's cafeteria, located in the Campus Center. The 2012-13 academic year saw large increases in the number of students eating their meals at Cowan, and the numbers will likely continue to rise.
Cowan's participation percent—"the percentage of total potential meals that we could serve in Cowan to what was actually served," says Sodexo General Manager Mike Nagorka—increased over seven percent between September 2012 and February 2013, with the participation percent now at 87.5 percent.
"That means that, of a potential 246,435 meals served [in that time period], we did serve 215,630 meals to date," Nagorka says. "That is 18,483 more meals than last year over the same period of time. It shows an improved level of satisfaction with the offerings and programs that we are doing."
Within those over 215,000 meals, the Centre community consumed a staggering amount of food and drink, including:
• 749 gallons of orange juice
• 1,040 pounds of Special K with Red Berries
• 10,450 chicken patty sandwiches
• 25,350 hamburgers
• 39,880 slices of pizza
• 78,408 ounces of salad greens
Students are drawn to Cowan as their main eatery for numerous reasons.
"I eat at Cowan quite often, typically two or three times a day," says Josh Karsner ’15. "I choose to eat there first and foremost for its convenience—having it within walking distance of any place on campus makes it my number one option for every meal. Also, there is always a variety of food available for every meal.
"I've noticed that Cowan is more willing to listen to the wants of the students and fix more meals congruent with those wants," Karsner continues.
The Sodexo staff does indeed want to foster conversation with students to create a more satisfactory dining experience, and is committed to constant improvements.
"We believe that having the right menu options, offering a good variety of products and having a dining team that wants to provide great service and satisfaction are key reasons why more of the Centre community is coming in," says Nagorka. "We also believe that 'eat-ertainment' is another reason. We have done a much better job lately having special events each month."
Some of those events have included a Welcome Back Wings Night, a Five-Foot Sub Day, a Korean and Thailand Night, featuring a demonstration from Tiger Kim Tae Kwon Do Academy, a Mardi Gras dinner, and a dinner and movie event on Groundhog Day, plus numerous others. Nagorka thinks events like these have played a role in increased student participation at Cowan.
"When the daily routine is changed by a positive event—that is, out of the ordinary—it gives a 'wow' experience," he says. "We have had many more 'wow' experiences this year than most, and we believe it is a large part of why we have had such a successful year."
Even with this increase in activity in Cowan, Sodexo managed to also play a huge role in the success of the Vice Presidential Debate at Centre in the fall of 2012, catering 208 events for the debate in three days. Under enormous pressure, Nagorka and his team met all of their demands with excellent service.
"Being the primary and oftentimes only provider of food for the debate, we could not have food be an issue. When clients like CNN, MSNBC, Anheuser-Busch, the Commission for Presidential Debates and others use our services, they want the service and product to be mistake-free. If mistakes exist, or the products we serve are poor, that could put a negative twist on an otherwise awesome event," Nagorka says. "With a tremendous amount of planning and great communication, our service was mistake-free and we exceeded expectations for many if not all of our clients.
"In the end, by providing the right services and quality products, we hope it helped Centre shine a little brighter and aid in the overall success that was experienced here when the world was watching," Nagorka continues.
With the debate in the past, Nagorka and his team are back to being focused on making Cowan a place where the entire Centre community can come together every day.
"I definitely like that we only have one cafeteria," Karsner says. "It is where everyone gathers and comes together as one student body, just as one family gathers around the dinner table."
"Cowan is the heart of the campus," Nagorka agrees. "Almost all paths intersect at some point in Cowan. It is a common ground for faculty, staff and students to dine, interact and share their college experiences. The relationships built at the dining hall are some of the best and long-lasting foundations of friendship during the college years and beyond."
With an academic year soon to start, Nagorka and the rest of the Sodexo staff are excited about and dedicated to providing quality dining in the years ahead.
"When our guests can have good food, good service and fun when they eat, it makes for a very enjoyable environment that they want to keep coming back to," he says.
For more information about dining services at Centre, click here.
Centre College, founded in 1819, offers its students a world of opportunities, highlighted by the nation's premier study abroad program and a faculty ranked #5 in the nation for "Best Undergraduate Teaching" at a liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report. Centre graduates enjoy extraordinary success, with entrance to top graduate and professional schools, prestigious fellowships for further study abroad (Rhodes, Rotary, Fulbright), and rewarding jobs (on average, 97 percent are employed or in advanced study within 10 months of graduation).