Food services implement campus-wide changes
Natalie Weber | Tuesday, August 29, 2017
With the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year came a number of changes to campus dining. Reckers shortened its hours to 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weeknights and 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday nights, while three additional South Bend businesses — a Pizza Hut off-campus, the Philly Pretzel Factory and Danny Boy Draft Works — have started accepting Domer Dollars. The full North Dining Hall (NDH) facility reopened and both dining halls began operating technology consistent with the new ID cards.
Director of student dining, Scott Kachmarik, said meal counts have been up this semester, as students are coming into both dining halls to explore the changes to the facilities.
“ … If you’ve seen the dish line or some of the server-y things, students have been coming in,” he said. “So that’s a good thing. But like I said, we’re trying to figure it out — timings and things — and we’ve got to get everyone settled into a routine.”
The meals served at both dining halls will now feature more “plant-forward” and “plant-centered” foods, senior director of campus dining, Chris Abayasinghe said.
“Our program is a signatory of a program called Menus of Change University Research Collaboration,” he said. “This is a cross-university collaborative to look at the future of what food is and also being able to kind of be a central voice, if you will, for foods from a dietary perspective … and essentially say, ‘Can we take all of these dining trends as well as concerns with the social, ethical and environmental impacts and have a consolidated response to this?’”
Students now enter into South Dining Hall through the dining room, rather than going directly into the buffet area, Kachmarik said.
“We were able to take where those severies — where [students] used to enter before — and we’ve now expanded the breakfast area on one side and consolidated our allergen friendly on the other,” he said of the change.
In the renovated North Dining Hall, students enter through an automated turnstile system which reads their new ID cards, Abayasinghe said.
“Sometimes when [students] go through the turnstile system and they tap the card, they’ll tap again before the gate opens so it’ll deduct a couple of meals,” he said. “So I know that our folks over in card services are working to address this specific issue, including the option of ‘Should we do a built-in buffer?’ so that way if the system reads your card, it won’t read it again for another 10 seconds or something along those lines.”
North Dining Hall’s monitors, who previously swiped students’ ID cards upon entry, will begin to work as cashiers or ambassadors in the dining rooms, Kachmarik said.
“The ambassadors are really going to play a different role,” he said. “Rather than taking your card and swiping you in, they’ll be roaming throughout the dining room and they’ll be bussing tables and helping clean up — [when] we get spills and things like that — but really to engage the students, more so than what they were doing just at the greeting.”
Abayasinghe said throughout the planning process of renovations, campus dining consulted student feedback. The decision to replace the Grab and Go in North Dining Hall with the NDH Marketplace — where students pay with flex points and Domer Dollars instead of a meal swipe — was “student-initiated” he said.
“Through the process, student government identified an advisory council called the student advisory council for us,” Abayasinghe said. “And what we heard was that exchanging [a meal swipe] — and I’m trying to use the exact terminology that the student raised to me — ‘It feels to me like swiping for Grab and Go for a dining hall meal, I just feel like I’ve lost something.’”
The suggestion by student government to adjust Grab and Go was not intended as a call to replace the service in North Dining Hall, student body president Becca Blais said.
“According to our co-director of student life, Caitlin [Murphy], while the suggestion of improving Grab and Go did come from our office, the suggestion of replacing Grab and Go did not originate from our office or any of our discussions,” Blais said in an email. “We’ve heard quite a bit of student feedback on improvements, and we’re continuing to gather feedback on the changes in order to share with Campus Dining.”
Campus Dining remains positive about the change, however, as using flex points or Domer Dollars instead of meal swipes at the marketplace will allow students more flexibility, Abayasinghe said.
“If you’re running between classes, or if, for example, you don’t have the time to be able to enjoy a meal in the dining hall, you can go into this place and instead of you losing a whole meal swipe, you can choose to utilize two or three dollars,” he said. “You can choose to utilize whatever amount you want based on what you want so that way you get to make that determination.”
Students can now swipe into the dining halls multiple times within a meal period, allowing additional freedom to students, Abayasinghe said. The number of flex points allotted to each student this semester has also increased when compared to the fall of 2016 semester, he said.
“What we wanted to do is to say “Well, tell you what. You have x amount of swipes a week. If you choose to utilize all of those swipes within the first two days, that’s your prerogative, because it has to match how you dine,”” Abayasinghe said.
Reggie Kalili, assistant director of marketing, said he enjoyed the new environment in the dining hall.
“I used to work in North Dining Hall so for me it’s quite the transformation in terms of just the overall atmosphere,” he said. “It’s brighter. It’s more welcoming and from the employee end, if you’re working in a nice new place, it just lends to a better attitude so people are just happy in general.”