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Back Story

A Dining First

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Every three years, State University of New York (SUNY) rates the student satisfaction of the dining services on its 64 campuses. In the most recent survey, Potsdam was rated No. 1. 

Daniel J. Hayes, executive director, Potsdam Auxiliary and College Educational Services (PACES) Inc., attributes his program’s achievement to dining service employees, many of whom have chalked up 30-year careers. “We’ve really tried to make our operation employee-friendly,” he says. “Our success goes back to the employees we’ve been able to hire who work really hard.” 

Created in 1950, PACES is a not-for-profit corporation that provides auxiliary services, such as dining, vending, and the college store; and administrative services, such as campus ID operations and other accounting and banking services, explains Hayes. He is also the business manager for the college foundation.

Married with four children in their 20s and 30s and two grandchildren, Hayes relaxes during the summer at his family’s summer place on Lake Ontario, where he enjoys reading, boating, swimming, fishing—and doing the maintenance work that comes with a summer house. 

You have four students on PACES’s 11-member board. Are they actively engaged?  

Very much so. Students are particularly interested in the level of service, food quality, hours of operation, and rates of the dining service program. As part of the board, they review the annual budget and approve the meal prices.  

What’s new in dining services?

The trends are convenience, quality, flexibility, and variety. Our dining service program is chef driven. We’re very conscious of food quality, different menus, and different options. We serve vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free offerings. 

We have a traditional dining program. We offer meals and flexible spending dollars. Students like to be able to eat when, where, and what they want. We run different operations, but the first one opens at 7:30 a.m., and the last one closes at 1 a.m., seven days a week. Students can use their meals any time during the day and as many meals a day as they would like. The most popular plan is 14 meals per week. If they use up their 14 meals, they can spend their flexible dollars.   

What changes have you seen during your tenure?

I’ve been here 37 years. When I arrived in 1977, we ran three dining halls, plus a fourth for catering. Today, we run two. However, we’ve put in more satellite food operations that are near the students, the academic quad, and classrooms. For example, we have a food facility in the library, and we just opened a new performing arts building with a food facility.  

We’re trying to balance the need to control costs while offering services where the students and staff are.

You’re also in charge of vending services. What kind of income does that generate?

With a campus of about 4,500 students, we generate about $450,000 in gross sales. We sell beverages, such as soda, coffee, and water, and snacks in every building on campus. We have machines in all the residence halls, academic buildings, and fitness center.

What is your annual donation to the college?

This year, we made a donation of $550,000, and we pay for utilities and pay rent on the space we use.

What makes you tick?

I’m a details person, maybe from my accounting/audit background. I like things to be done correctly and to balance. 

What ticks you off?

People who don’t pay attention to details or follow proper procedures.  

What is your biggest success?

Balancing the needs of the corporation—we need to pay our bills—with those of the students. We have been able to maintain a high quality of service and student satisfaction, while staying financially viable. We have been able to make annual donations to the college and add to our corporate reserves for new equipment and capital projects.  

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.