Customer Story: Feeding College Athletes at Jacksonville State University
- 3 Min Read
Feeding college athletes on the road usually means a lot of fast food, but that’s not the case for the Jacksonville State University Track & Field team. That’s because after Matthew Boone took the helm as head coach at the Alabama school, he began using ezCater, making it easy to give his team access to a variety of healthy, fresh food.
“Our program is small from a resource standpoint. It’s me and one other full-time coach,” says Boone. So while larger programs may have a director of operations who can focus on the logistics side of things, including feeding their athletes, Boone has to wear that hat on top of his coaching duties. And, based on how haphazard meal planning was back when he was just an assistant, Boone knew he needed to find a better solution.
“We would either do per diem and stop for lunch for an hour and half and be idling in a parking lot. Or, show up to a restaurant without a reservation with 25 people on a Friday night and wait to be seated,” says Boone. “That drove me crazy to no end. It was something I saw as a real weakness to how we traveled.”
He also wanted to do away with putting college kids in charge of their meal planning, by giving them a per diem budget. “I remember being a college kid saying, ‘they gave me some money, I’m going to keep it.’ [By ordering for them,] I know that they’re eating, I know I gave them good food, and it wasn’t junk food or fast food,” says Boone.
Managing Meals for Marathon Trips and Quick Sprints
Boone discovered ezCater through a basic Google search, and it has gotten the team’s meal program back on track (pardon the pun).
“It has been beneficial because we’ll travel to unfamiliar cities and towns for games and be there for 48 to 72 hours. I’m not familiar with who takes catering orders locally or if they’ll deliver. ezCater has been really helpful on that side of things,” he says.
For longer trips, like the 8 hours it takes to get to Jacksonville, Florida from Alabama, the easiest option is to find a place the team can stop at with the bus to pick up a meal. Once at an actual track meet, which can run several hours with team members competing at all different times, ordering boxed lunches right to the track is the best bet.
“Depending on the day or schedule because things will change, sometimes we’ll have dinner delivered as well. Or we usually have a meeting space at the hotel we’re staying at, and we’ll get dinner delivered there,” says Boone.
Being able to order individually packaged meals is also super convenient. “Setting up a buffet outside in March or April under a 10 x 10 tent and hoping kids will keep things clean is dangerous,” says Boone.
Also key is that Boone can make sure that everyone’s dietary preferences are met. For example, in the spring, they were able to accommodate Catholic team members who abstain from eating meat on Fridays in Lent. “We can easily do that through ezCater rather than just looking and seeing what’s on the side of the road,” says Boone.
Road Food Can Be Real Food
Beyond boxed eats, Boone makes it a point to provide “real” meals on road trips. “We try to do a more substantial dinner, so having access to some of the local caterers that I wouldn’t have been able to find on my own has been really helpful,” says Boone.
He recalls one memorable team meal in Birmingham, Alabama where the team used a caterer that provided the option of roasted chicken with vegetables or lasagna. “I remember hearing someone on the bus say that was the best dinner they had had. It was a real meal at the end of the day, as opposed to stopping at yet another fast casual restaurant,” says Boone.
In fact, the team has really come to appreciate and look forward to those healthier grilled chicken, pasta, or salmon dishes, he adds. “ezCater has definitely allowed us to get meals that are good for us and taste good.”
Fewer Administrative Hurdles
When on the road, Boone estimates that using ezCater saves him at least 30 minutes per meal. “So if we’re eating five meals, that’s 2.5 hours,” he says.
Another time saver is not having to stress about the paperwork involved in expensing meals or crunching budget numbers. “I don’t like to hold on to paper receipts and get in trouble for not turning them in. ezCater has e-receipts, and having that PDF is way better than a crumpled receipt,” he says.
Another bonus is that he doesn’t have to explain to restaurants what tax exempt status means – many of them just don’t get how it works, says Boone. ezCater lets you upload your tax exempt status once, and keeps it on files for all eligible orders. “Otherwise, if we pay sales tax, we get called up to the bursar’s office and have to pay it out of our own pocket,” says Boone.
Stretching the Budget
In addition to the variety of ezCater options, Boone is also pleased with the rewards points he earns from all the ordering the team does. “We put that money back into the program into some extra equipment needs that I don’t want to ask for, but I can go get with gift cards,” says Boone.
For a team that travels almost nine months out of the year, including the smaller travel party of up to 15 people in the fall for cross country, and the larger indoor and outdoor track groups in the spring, convenience is everything. Says Boone, adding that feeding college athletes is so much easier with ezCater. “Discovering ezCater has made it easier for our group to travel more smoothly.”
Feeding College Athletes on the Road With ezCater
Finding healthy food that can satisfy college athletes’ big appetites is no easy task. From dealing with unpredictable game or tournament times, to sourcing restaurants that can actually feed an entire team at once, there are so many challenges. And let’s face it. College coaches have a lot more on their plates than just figuring out what to feed hungry runners (and other athletes). Learn how ezCater can help feed college athletes on the road, finding great restaurants and food options wherever you are.