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Thursday, December 8, 2011

What the student mess can teach about management

All residential institutes have a mess, with the contract usually a monopoly of a single caterer for the whole college. In come colleges(especially IITs/NITs/IIMs), the student body via an elected Mess Committee alnt mess can teach about so has oversight into aspects like menu, enforcing contracts, terms and conditions, renewal decisions etc. It struck me the other day, that the mess can be a great management teaching tool in the following ways, for the students involved in the process. WHILE I'm not in the Mess Committee, below is my understanding/analysis of the process
  • Explaining monopoly:-Student Mess is usually a limited monopoly for breakfast, while outside tiffen suppliers may supply other meals. So the contract may/may not reflect that
  • Learning to play the regulation game-Regulation IS a game with parties concerned trying to optimize their pie. So structuring the conditions to minimize gaming is essential, for both parties, and the negotiations would reflect that.
  • Food forecasting/estimation-While usually the mess contractor's headache, the students also would try to minimize wastage by limiting portion servings, awareness messages and cooking vessels management.
  • Optimizing waiting times:-That is a classical Operations Issue of balancing capacity and waiting time, which only a SLA can ensure!
  • Evaluating bids:-Reputation, Track Record and flexibility among other things need to be evaluated, and that is a training for future bid evaluation
  • Dealing with incomplete contracts:-Since not all eventualities can be anticipated in the contract, this is a necessary eventuality. Instances like new menu items, flexible timings, bulk coupon purchases etc need to be negotiated.
  • Customer Service:-Since the mess committee members are the first point of contact for any complaints, they better learn to take it with a smile and politely!And to their credit, this year's committee under Mohit Garg has done a stellar job
What surprises me however, is the lack of faculty involvement in the Mess. They usually do NOT eat in the mess, and so are usually indifferent to it. And to my knowledge, no professor in the above areas is ever approached with advice in that regard. Which makes me wonder whether Professors practice what they preach in that regard.

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