Catering and Special Events Manager
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Educational Background: BS in Hospitality Management from the University of Kentucky
Years in foodservice: 10, including more than 6 years in catering and events
Age: 28

Rob Stromquist U-of-MichRob StromquistFE&S: What drew you to the foodservice industry in general, and to the campus dining segment in particular?

RS: I started cooking when I was 14 years old and knew I wanted to work in the industry because I enjoyed how food brings people together. The campus dining segment is particularly attractive because we get to serve a diverse population that is ever changing and challenging us with new expectations.

FE&S: What’s the best career advice you have been given?

RS: Dress for and approach your work like you have the job you want, not the job you have. I learned this early on in my career and always make a point to be sure I present myself well — often in a bow tie — as it shows our clients and guests that we are a polished and refined operation. In my work it means thinking beyond my job description to assist my supervisor with projects that may be on their plate.

FE&S: What’s an important lesson you’ve learned about working in this segment?

RS: I’ve learned how important it is to rely on the innovative resources our student staff can provide. It’s our duty as a supervisor to provide the tools for our employees to be successful with enough creative freedom to take ownership of their work.

One of my most memorable moments was when an engineering major developed a new way to display our items using a method nobody else had considered.

FE&S: What trends and future directions in campus dining are most exciting to you?

RS: The momentum behind the local food movement is the most exciting, combined with a transition toward action stations and food pairing menus in the catering and events market.

Our chefs are providing more and more local food options. Our catering department even recently expanded its beer offerings to include a Michigan beer package.

FE&S: Where do you see the biggest need for change or improvement?

RS: We have a great sustainability program at Michigan, and it’s going to continue to be important to our consumers as the zero-waste event market continues to grow. Keeping up with the training and education for our guests to understand the importance of properly sorting items to compost, recycling and minimizing landfill will be a big opportunity to be a resource on campus as the zero-waste event experts.

FE&S: Describe the biggest challenge you have overcome.

RS: Understanding that tomorrow is another day to win your guests over. The best catering teams in the world make mistakes, but the way you recover and make up for those mistakes is what will truly determine if you are great.

FE&S: What are you most proud of?

RS: Developing an amazing team at the University of Michigan. Each day I am impressed with the initiative my managers take in executing their work and making suggestions to improve our operation. One of my managers started as a student employee just three years ago and has developed into a catering captain who leads some of our largest events.

FE&S: Complete this sentence as it relates to your campus dining program: “I really wish we could …”

RS: … serve more students.

FE&S: What keeps you in this industry?

RS: The drive that exists at a university is contagious. Our student staff members are continually pushing themselves to excel in the classroom, and it shows in their work as well. When you combine so many people who are passionate about excellence, the results are overwhelming. The added support from leadership to develop professionally and challenge the status quo is also exciting to me as a young professional.