Convenience, quality most important factors in dining decisions

Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories on the results of a TommieMedia campus food options survey. The first story appeared on June 14.

When St. Thomas students decide where to spend their hard-earned dollars on a bite to eat, food quality and location/convenience are the two most important factors in their decision, according to a TommieMedia survey.

The survey, aimed at gauging student satisfaction with on-campus food options, received 469 responses from April 23 to May 14.

According to a TommieMedia survey, food quality and location/convenience are the two most important factors in deciding where to eat. (Brent Fischer/TommieMedia)
According to a TommieMedia survey, food quality and location/convenience are the two most important factors in deciding where to eat. (Brent Fischer/TommieMedia)

“Food quality” (374 votes) and “location/convenience” (332) received the most votes for most important factors in deciding where to eat. “Cost” was next with 207 votes, while “service” received 40 votes.

Junior Breana Lucius said she isn’t overly impressed with the food quality on-campus, but the convenient locations of some eating spots determine where her next meal will be. For Lucius, this means Food for Thought, the student favorite located in Minneapolis, is too out-of-the-way.

“The food on north campus, it’s all right; it’s there, it’s convenient. It’s not awesome,” Lucius said. “I just don’t have time to go to Minneapolis campus.”

Since the locations of on-campus food establishments rarely change, Director of Dining Services Todd Empanger said his primary concern is providing students with a quality product at an affordable price.

Dining services achieves this through high-volume ordering and comparing prices with other restaurants around the Twin Cities, Empanger said.

“Our initiative is to try and keep our prices under any place,” Empanger said. “When you compare us to like a Jimmy John’s or a Subway, we buy a four or five stage up in quality of meat.… Our sandwiches have more meat, more cheese, more toppings, and they’re usually the same price or less.”

Dining services orders about 90 percent of its food from U.S. Foodservice and about 10 percent from Reinhart FoodService, Empanger said. While all on-campus eateries order their food through dining services, Empanger said they are independently run and even have different recipes.

“Businesswise, everyone is all independent of each other. They all provide weekly updated reports to show what they’re doing and where they are,” Empanger said. “We’re not supposed to lose money so we’ve got to watch our labor and our food costs.”

The Grill vs. Scooter’s

With just one floor separating them in Murray-Herrick Campus Center, the Grill and Scooter’s are natural competitors for drawing in hungry students on North Campus.

While both restaurants order food the same way, Empanger said the two have different goals.

“The Grill is kind of the quick pickup and go and is designed to be more value-ready,” Empanger said. “Scooter’s is more like a restaurant. It is more expensive because you’re getting a better product.… At Scooter’s, as soon as you order it, it’s on the grill fresh. So there’s a cost to that.”

But the survey showed that students think food quality is more an issue at Scooter’s than at the Grill.

Fifty-four percent of students surveyed said the food quality at Scooter’s was “satisfactory,” while “below expecations” and “above expectations” received 21 percent of the vote. On the other hand, when asked about the Grill’s food quality, 60 percent said it was “satisfactory” and the next most popular response was “above expectations” with 25 percent of the vote.

Empanger said he’s surprised with the results, but food quality is something dining services is always looking to improve.

“As far as food quality, we’re always looking at upgrading and getting it better so that [students] stay on campus,” Empanger said. “We want to keep them here. Our goal is to try to do that.”

TommieMedia’s on-campus food survey results (PDF)

Brent Fischer can be reached at

Missing words were restored to this story, and minor language
errors were corrected at noon June 21, 2010.