By Zach Cihlar
Section: FeaturesMarch 17, 2017
Each morning, Andy Allen runs through statistics detailing student dining trends at Brandeis. On Monday, March 13, nearly 1,300 students purchased items at the C-store from 4:30 p.m. to its closing at 2 a.m. The hike in activity marks a trend Allen recognizes as the pre-snow day stock-up. This is just one of his many tasks as the general manager of Brandeis Dining Services.
Allen works from a high-ceilinged office adjacent to the Lower Usdan dining hall and just to the right of the C-store. Past the glass door marked by the Brandeis Dining logo, classical music can be heard filling the edges of the space, a glaring contrast to the bustle and noise of the dining hall atmosphere.
When he’s not in his office, Allen can be found roaming the various dining options, keeping a check on the quality and service and checking in on his employees. “I’m a picker,” is how he described himself on his trips to the dining halls. “I’ll go through Usdan or Sherman, I’ll pick a plate, and I’ll pick a little bit of a bunch of different things, just to see the quality,” he explained.
Allen entered the position just 15 months ago, but has worked for Brandeis Dining for 10 years. His first job out of college was an executive chef position at Brandeis, which he held from 1987 to 1996. Allen then left Brandeis to work at Harvard for 14 years, during which he transitioned from a position as a chef into the retail operations facet of university dining.
Allen then moved on to work for Aramark at Simmons College for five years (Aramark previously served Brandeis before Sodexo), before returning to Brandeis to fill the open general manager position.
Now comfortably situated back at Brandeis, Allen remembered the novelty of his return, but also the sense of reunion with the Brandeis Dining workers, including Sherman greeter Yen Yu, who worked at Brandeis with Allen for a short time while he was a chef.
Allen described his role as one that requires a sense of connectedness to the employees and the students, which is why he spends so much time visiting the various dining options across campus.
A large portion of his job is keeping “a pulse on what students think, on what the administration thinks [and] what’s expected,” which is where this connectedness comes in. He measures these expectations by following various Facebook pages (including the Overseen at Brandeis page, the Brandeis University Parent and Families page, the Sodexo Fan Club page and others), hiring student secret shoppers, reading feedback on Sodexo’s website and communicating with the senior leadership team, about 30 managers and supervisors including the executive chef.
In general, the statistics Allen reads each morning on trends in student dining attendance give him a solid grasp on what the student body wants. “People make decisions with their feet,” he said. By tracking where students make their purchases, he can tell what options and items are most liked by the students.
These statistics actually influenced the recent dining hall changes. According to Allen, the Dunkin Donuts move occurred due to high student activity in Upper Usdan and low awareness and traffic at the Village location last academic year.
Changes such as the movement of dining options in Upper Usdan all stem from Allen’s connection to his employees, the administration and students. He sees himself as a sort of liaison between his customers, employees, employers and suppliers, which gives him the ability to solve problems by aiding in communication between those separate groups of people.
This is his favorite part of the job, he said. Getting to take in the ideas and wishes of the dining hall workers, chefs and students and put them into action is both a challenge he faces and the reason why he decided to take the position as general manager. He described Brandeis students as a “food savvy” student body that pushes him to help put out a better product.
The products, such as gluten-free, vegan and kosher items, are designed to fit the student body’s different dietary restriction needs. At other schools, many students with limited dietary options often have to eat separately from the rest of the student population, Allen pointed out. At Brandeis, however, he and the previous general managers have worked to integrate the various dietary restrictions into the greater residential dining halls.
In a letter to new students and parents, Allen wrote that he and the rest of the team is dedicated to accommodating and pleasing the student body. “Our team is committed to providing the highest quality food and service to each and every member of the community we have the privilege to serve,” he wrote in the letter.
Allen’s only request of Brandeis Dining Services customers is this: “When we’re doing good, let us know. When we struggle, let us know.” Despite a 45-mile drive from his home, Allen and the rest of the Dining Services team are committed to delivering quality food to students daily. “We’re always there for you, even when it’s snowing out,” he said.