Posted April 25, 2013 by David Porter 

The Porter Principles: Determining Dining Patterns

What follows is an excerpt from The Porter Principles by architect David Porter, reposted in The Commons with permission from the author.

When I step onto a campus, I put myself in the students’ shoes and then walk, and walk, and walk.

While other consultants or vendors look at food services from a financial or logistical perspective, I view it holistically. I sit down with groups of students and ask them questions to determine what dining services are needed on your campus.

One thing that may surprise you is that I don’t ask the students, “What do you want?” Rather, I ask, “What do you do?” I ask for complete details on students’ dining habits. I want to know a typical day in the life of the student. Where do they go for breakfast? Where do they get snacks? What do they do when it’s eleven o’clock at night and their stomachs start growling?

It may seem like a circular method of interviewing, but I’ve learned through extensive experience that what we do is a better indication of what we will do in the future than what we say we will do.

For example, students may say that they want more organic options, a vegan-friendly menu, or a healthier food message, but in the end, they’re going to the local mom and pop pizza place when they’re hungry at night. I want to know why they go there, who they call, and when they call. I want to establish their patterns.

I’m not a believer in “If you build it, they will come.” Nor am I believer in creating something when there is no demand. Because when it comes down to it, we cannot create the demand.


The reason I put myself through this is to determine the patterns. What are students doing now? How can food services align with these patterns? For instance, if a university wanted to put in another retail spot, then my goal would be to find out where the students go. Where is the parking lot located? If the parking lot is easier to reach than the dining hall, then chances are, students will opt for the drive-thru or wait to eat at their final destination.

But sometimes the success—or failure—of a program has less to do with logistical matters, and more to do with the ultimate value offered.


Our answer is to create more value. The ability to socialize and see and be seen is part of this value proposition along with the food, hours, etc. When we line up all of these planets and it all comes together, your students are going to tell Mom and Dad, “Enroll me in the meal plan another year.” It hits all the right notes because the value has fundamentally changed. And we find that value through our interviews and research.

David Porter

David Porter is the CEO & President at Porter Khouw Consulting, Inc..

David has completed dining services master plans, meal plan studies, written and bid RFPs for foodservice operator selection, and has programmed and designed foodservice spaces throughout the United States and Canada. His professional experience includes more than 35 years of hands-on foodservice operations and consulting experience, with nearly 15 years of experience in the field of independent foodservice consulting.


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