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Food services survey for changes

Nicole Zook | Thursday, November 11, 2004

Well-known for efforts to improve campus life, this month students will have their chance to upgrade at least the quality of the food served in the dining halls, as establishments on both campuses conduct satisfaction surveys.

Last week, Saint Mary’s Food Services distributed about 300 surveys in the Noble Family Dining Hall so students could provide opinions on issues ranging from the food served to the cleanliness of the facility. Notre Dame will also send out online surveys to students later this month.

Saint Mary’s Food Services director Barry Bowles said he personally gave the survey to students as they left the building and looks forward to seeing the results.

“We take the surveys and send them out to be tabulated. … We won’t have the results for about two weeks,” he said. “I already know not everybody is happy with what we do, and that’s why I don’t look at the surveys before we send them in.”

Bowles said the surveys would be extremely useful this year, as large numbers of students participated. Last year, 17 percent of the student population provided results. This year, he estimates about 30 percent of students filled out surveys.

“We review them, and if it’s something I can change, we change it,” he said.

South Dining Hall general manager Marc Poklinkowski also said gauging student reaction is important to food services.

“A lot of the things that we do are based on student reactions,” he said. “We’re going to be doing [a survey] in November, and I think this will be the first year we’re going to do a second one to see how opinions change.”

Based on previous surveys, Notre Dame has extended dining hall hours, included new menu items, increased vegetarian and vegan options and changed from an 8-day menu rotation to a 12-day cycle.

“We noticed that once we started [the surveys], freshmen and sophomores liked South Dining Hall’s variety, but our ratings weren’t as high with juniors and seniors,” Poklinkowski said. “Now, instead of things showing up 28 times a year, it’s down to 19. That’s cutting 33 percent of repetition out of our menus.”

North and South Dining Halls each serve around 2,300 students per meal, and Saint Mary’s generally feeds about 800 at each meal. Bowles, former general manager for North Dining Hall, said implementing variety changes was easier in a smaller atmosphere.

“There’s a difference in how you can do things,” he said. “If you come to me and say, ‘I don’t like what you served for dinner Wednesday night,’ I can change that … because it’s a smaller group here.”

Bowles said many students do provide personal opinions on various aspects of the dining hall each day. Since he came to Saint Mary’s, a comment card system has been used which allows students to get almost instant reactions to their comments. Cards with responses from the dining hall staff are posted daily for general viewing and have prompted the appearance of such menu items as wraps, a hot dog bar, a taco bar and a full-time deli.

“We get more positive comments than negative on cards,” Bowles said. “We’ll do those things, not because they’re healthy options, but because students asked for it.”

Poklinkowski said South Dining Hall also uses a comment system.

“Our operations manager has comment cards [posted] really close to the exits. It used to be a lot more popular… now, as we’re filling up, and able to offer a lot more, the suggestions have gone down greatly,” he said.

He said the yearly survey, with 17 different sections for students to rate food services on, tends to have a bigger impact. Last fall, survey results demonstrated a plunge in student and faculty opinion of the appearance of South Dining Hall. As a result, the problem – which food services would not have known existed without the survey – was immediately solved.

“One of the things that we had last year that South really dropped was appearance of facility,” he said. “We’ve been getting [workers] out in the dining rooms more frequently now [and] the table’s still fresh for people to go out and sit in. That’s one of the most recent examples of how we’ve used the survey.”

Both schools said they would begin reviewing survey results as soon as they are tabulated, in order to make changes accordingly. Bowles emphasized the need for as much honest student input as possible in order to provide a positive dining experience.

“We want people to understand that we’re doing what we can to improve not just the quality of food, but the quality of life on campus,” he said.