The food service and hospitality industry has been built on the vision and passion of professionals that seek to bring hospitality to another level. That recipe for success has driven Kristina Patridge to the pinnacle of success in college and university dining.
Patridge is the newly elected President of NACUFS – The National Association of College and University Food Service, and the director of Dining Service at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL. Her dedication to her UA Dining faculty and staff and her team have allowed her to take her mark on the growing collegiate dining industry.
“I was always interested in working in the restaurant industry at a young age. My brother and sister, who are older than me, were working in food service when I was growing up. Once I was old enough to become employed, I instantly went to a restaurant and got a job waiting tables,” shared Patridge. Patridge’s hospitality background working with operations allowed her to learn about the business through many unique opportunities. She worked in the food service and hospitality industry at destination locations, including Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon.
Her experience and knowledge in those Western US kitchens landed her a contract administrator position at the University of Alabama in 2000. “When I first started at the university there were 6 dining locations across campus with about 18,000 students. Today, we have grown to 32 locations with more than 37,000 students, as well as a revenue in the 40 million dollar range.” Patridge has contributed to the rebuilding of 2 standalone residential dining facilities, the renovation of a food court, as well as adding various concepts around campus in underserved areas. The university is also the first college campus with a Starbucks drive-thru.
Under Patridge’s guidance, UA Dining had grown to some 150 student workers on campus with over 400 local community members who are full-time employees (a good portion of the manager and director positions being graduates of the university). “Our main focus when looking to grow our team is to ensure that everyone understands the mission of the university and that we are here for student success. There is a lot of opportunity for development and growth for young people which is something we make sure to promote.”
Patridge was inspired to become involved in NACUFS by a long-term boss of 17 years. “She inspired me to consider what I could learn from pursuing this career so I signed up for symposiums and any learning opportunities I could find. This fueled my continued interest in the association. This business is about people, and I am a people person. NACUFS offers access to the most brilliant minds in the industry,” Patridge shared.
The University of Alabama has become synonymous with excellence in college football. With the growth of the Crimson Tide pigskin brand has come increased responsibility for Patridge and her team. “With football weekends the campus population increases dramatically. Our dining services help to cater tailgates on the quad, and we will set up special pop ups– ice services and hotdog carts– for the larger traffic at the student union.”
With Patridge at the helm, the NACUFS team is looking to implement an agenda that will exceed expectations. “At UA, we aim to create destinations, deliver an experience, and support student success,” she said.
After the pandemic and learning about process improvement and effective service models, NACUFS hopes to come together again and continue to support its members in building and enhancing those relationships. “We want to promote inclusivity and ensure we identify critical success factors and deploy those strategies. Enhancing our value composition of our learning opportunities while expanding access and engaging younger professionals is a priority.” Through Patridge’s and the NACUFS’ board’s efforts they hope to showcase how campus dining can be influential through hospitality; they are looking to promote collegiate dining as an exciting career opportunity. Patridge also brings a great feel for the changing economics of a university education.
As college tuition increases, there is a pressure on the dining service to exceed customer expectations while maintaining costs in the market. “It’s about allocating smart business solutions to reduce and contain costs,” Patridge concluded.
The UA Dining executive represents the flexibility that today’s College and University Dining professional must have to keep up with the ever-changing needs of a diverse student and faculty community. That includes in 2021, helping an industry redefine its definition of a ‘new normal’. Clearly with Kristina Patridge quarterbacking that process, that game plan is in the best of hands.
To learn more about NACUFS and their upcoming events, visit their website.