Texas Tech University

Hospitality Services Wins Best of Show Award From Food Management

Lucy Greenberg

July 21, 2021

Hospitality in times of COVID

Texas Tech University has been named the best of show winner in Food Management’s 2021 Best Concepts Awards.

Food Management's Best Concept Awards program was created to recognize innovation in onsite dining in K-12 schools, colleges, healthcare facilities, business/industry locations and sports/entertainment venues.

There are many awards given for different categories and events, and one Best of Show Award given each year. This year, Texas Tech University rose to the top of the list as it was recognized as the Best of Show winner thanks to its innovative approach to meeting campus needs during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“We made the decision six to eight months prior to the pandemic that we needed to move into mobile ordering,” said Kirk Rodriguez, managing director of Hospitality Services. “That expansion was well underway when the pandemic hit, so then we just shifted our entire program to strictly online. We signed up with Tapingo – which is Grubhub now – but we took a very conservative approach at first, with just a few locations and options. But then, when most of the campus shut down, we were able to roll it out to all operations.”

Kirk Rodriguez
Kirk Rodriguez

While much of the campus slowed down after the onset of COVID-19, dining plans on campus actually grew from 13,500 to more than 17,600 dining plans. Combined with the increase of plans with the decrease of labor, Hospitality Services had to rise to a new challenge.

Luckily, due to the innovative spirit of the team, they were better prepared than most when COVID-19 hit.

“In a year of trial and challenge, the dining team at Texas Tech has proved to be adaptable and forward-thinking in redesigning its already cutting-edge, retail-focused campus dining program into one that met the needs of students navigating a new and sometimes scary campus environment,” said Mike Buzalka with Food Management.

“Innovations included adding technology solutions, reformulating and simplifying menus while still satisfying customer preferences and adjusting the meal plan approach to better meet pandemic-imposed needs.”

In addition to online ordering, Hospitality Services also made food choices retail-oriented while moving away from made-to-order options. They assessed which menu items were most popular at each location and ensured those items were on a rotating menu for pick-up.

Moving away from made-to-order menus helped bolster production while labor decreased.

Labor is still an issue right now throughout the hospitality industry in the U.S.. However, Texas Tech's Hospitality Services is stepping up its game to offer extremely competitive advantages.

“We're increasing our students' beginning salary rate to $10 per hour plus a free meal and room and board assistance,” Rodriguez said. “We're also enhancing our scholarships, so hopefully all of these things will encourage some to students to consider working a few hours with the flexibility we can offer that they may not know is available.”