By Casey S. Elliott
Baker University Center's food and retail operations are showing signs of a healthier balance sheet, based on the most recent financial data.
Each Baker Center venue -- West 82, Latitude 39, the Front Room and Bobcat Essentials -- performed better in the first five months of 2008 compared with the same period last year. Collectively, as of Nov. 30, the venues showed a deficit of $58,454, compared to a shortfall of $436,105 at the same point last fiscal year.
Typically, new businesses take three to five years to earn a profit, in part because it takes time to recoup start-up costs, said Dining Services Director Richard Neumann. In addition, retail operations need time to evaluate such things as pricing, hours, portions and marketing tactics, and many people don't immediately switch loyalties to patronize a new facility.
Dining Services administration took aggressive measures beginning last fiscal year to reduce the deficit. These included a survey; modified hours, concepts and menus; price changes; and revised meal plan options.
"We are very much on-track and pleased with the progress. We know the loss last year was a hard hit, but we are on course to continue our success," said Gwyn Scott, executive director of culinary and dining operations.
The survey, which 1,974 students, faculty, staff and community members answered, was conducted in late spring and early summer. It was one tool that helped Scott and her Dining Services team hone their operations to improve service, increase cost savings and encourage traffic.
"For instance, we quickly realized from the surveys that combos are what people are accustomed to," said Assistant Vice President for Auxiliary Services Christine Sheets. "And we are continuing to address other survey points and look at ways to get people spending more time in Baker Center instead of traveling straight through."
In addition to adding combo meals, West 82 modified dining concepts, adjusted hours, made portions more consistent and improved signage.
As a result of these changes, all venues have improved their revenues and reduced expenses.
Bobcat Essentials underwent small but effective changes, including signage modifications, store rearrangement, increased inventory and enhanced product lines.
Changes to Latitude 39 included modifying some operating hours during low traffic periods and offering the restaurant's use as a special-events venue. Additional changes have been made to improve customers' perceptions and create more of a casual fine dining experience, such as adding artwork and softening the lighting.
"Operational changes indicate that Dining Services is in a position to meet budget goals this year," Scott said. "The Dining Services team will focus on continuous improvement efforts to ensure quality experiences for all customers."