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What drives the nation’s top foodservice operators? To celebrate IFMA's 65th annual Gold & Silver Plate Awards Celebration, we asked the 2019 Silver Plate Class to share what makes them the operator all-stars they are today. Find out what they have to say about their passion for foodservice, career accomplishments and what it means to be part of a legendary group of operators.

Meet Randy Lait, Senior Director of Hospitality Services at North Carolina State University. Randy received the 2019 Silver Plate Award in the Colleges & Universities category, and was nominated by Basic American Foods and Coca-Cola North America.




What do you enjoy most about your career in foodservice?

I’ve always enjoyed the way food brings people together in a common experience, provides nutrition to sustain the body, and is an endless source of challenge and opportunity.  It’s been a great privilege for me, in at least a small way, to support countless students that passed through our university on their path to achieve their dreams.  Working in food service has allowed me to learn so much about food, to meet amazing people, to travel to great cities, and yet remain grounded in knowing that every meal is a chance to succeed - or to disappoint - and always strive to reach higher. 

Tell us about your biggest career accomplishment.

During the period of 2010-2018, I had the opportunity to lead the NC State campus dining program through a period of transformation.  We designed, built, and opened a dozen unique food service concepts in a three year period, created new campus meal plans, elevated our culinary talent in all units, doubled our catering business, and made nutrition, food transparency, and sustainability the cornerstones of our operating platform.  This culminated in a series of national recognitions, including being the first university to achieve the Partnership for a Healthier America - Healthy Colleges Initiative, being named 2015 Innovators of the Year, Healthiest 26 Colleges, and receiving the Goldie Award for sustainability. This was a great time for the NC State Dining team, and helped further establish our reputation as a successful campus dining program. 

How is your segment making a difference for the foodservice industry?

The college and university segment plays a pivotal role in transforming young people into successful adults.  We help educate, shape, and respond to developing consumer viewpoints on food trends, transparency in ingredients and sourcing, and cultural norms.  The college students we serve today become the mainstream customer of tomorrow, so I view the College and University segment as a unique opportunity to engage with emerging topics in food and beverage.  Our segment tends to be on the front of innovations like mobile ordering, sustainability, nutrition and allergen information at all points of order, and new electronic payment methods.  I believe college and university food service operations are often early adopters of the newest trends.

What advice do you have for someone new to the foodservice industry?

My advice is to learn something new every day and to always reach higher today than you did yesterday to make some aspect of your operation better.  Everyone you work with, everyone you work for, and everyone you serve can be a source of information or inspiration.  Find your own voice and use it to inspire and teach others to always advocate for the better choice to perform at the highest level every day.

What does being an IFMA Silver Plate recipient mean to you?

Being an IFMA Silver Plate recipient is a tremendous honor, knowing the names and reputations of the industry leaders who have received this award previously and the respect I have for them.  Now that my 35 years working in and then leading the dining program at NC State has come to an end, I have a unique opportunity to reflect on my career spent here and consider where we started, the challenges we overcame together, the great things we accomplished together, and my NC State family that has meant so much to me and of whom I am so very proud.  Receiving the IFMA Silver Plate is the crowning achievement to my career in food service.  The success we experienced together is what made this award possible and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.