Luigi Alberganti, senior director of campus dining, said he was excited for the school year to start back up again.
“Speaking for the staff, we couldn’t wait until we could go back to our activities,” he said.
This year, the Notre Dame campus hosts three new dining options. The Gilded Bean, located in the Hammes Bookstore, features a café menu with bagel sandwich options. Rollin’ and Bowlin’, a new concept featuring smoothies and acai bowls, will be served at the Hagerty Family Café in Duncan Student center.
Sophomore J.P. Polking’s favorite new addition is FlipKitchen in LaFortune Student center.
“I love FlipKitchen. I’ve been probably like four times already in the past week and a half which isn’t good because I’m spending too much money, but it’s really good food,” he said.
At FlipKitchen, which replaced Subway, Alberganti explained the menu will be shifting throughout the year.
“There’s a core menu but then there is also a section of a menu that gets changed every three weeks in provide variety and excitement about that,” he said.
Notre Dame’s wage increase has allowed the dining halls to also be more ambitious, Alberganti said.
“The university changed their compensation policies, allowing us to budget for a little bit more labor,” he said. “It’s all about the labor at this point.”
Executive chef of North Dining Hall (NDH) Matt Seitz said the University’s increase in wages has allowed the dining halls to increase performance by increasing worker productivity.
“We are paying (workers) an adequate wage. Because of that, we have simply asked that they do a little more,” he said.
With higher productivity, Alberganti said the dining halls are cooking more fresh food.
“We eliminated 20% of prepared convenience foods so we’re actually cooking from scratch a lot more now,” Alberganti said.
At the Welcome Weekend first-year dinner, which the dining halls served for free, Alberganti said the dining hall capabilities were tested, yet remained strong, when they provided “about 7,000 meals in a matter of 35 minutes.”
Sustainability and Supply Chain
Increase in personnel has also allowed the dining halls to increase sustainability programs once again, according to the campus dining director of supply chain and sustainability Cheryl Bauer.
“Some of the things that we’re really working to this year is bringing back programs that we had in place pre COVID-19,” she said.
Two major sustainability initiatives, Grind2Energy and Leanpath, are now being used again by the dining halls to monitor again and reuse food waste. The labor shortage during the 2021-22 year and the prior year’s COVID protocols weakened the initiatives, Bauer said.
“This year, we’ve taken the steps to really focus on those and get them going back up to where they were previously,” she said.
One step that is being implemented according to Bauer is signs at the dining halls telling students not to throw away food waste, which allows staff to scrape it and use it for the waste management programs.
Bauer also said the dining halls have had a smoother supply chain than last year.
The one exception to this year’s positive supply chain, Bauer said, is turkey. Due to the avian influenza wiping out turkey flocks throughout the country, she said there will be a shortage of deli turkey.
“You won’t see it on the deli bars in the dining halls. We’re putting roast chicken breasts out instead,” Bauer said.
Student feedback leading to improvements
Seitz mentioned that QR codes in the dining halls allowing students to give feedback on the dining hall experience has been helpful in improving the dining hall experience.
“I had one the other day that was, ‘can we please have pesto added back to the pasta line?’ That’s not an unreasonable request, so you’re going to see pesto added back to the pasta line,” Seitz said.
Another improvement Seitz noted was the chicken that is available every day. After hearing bad reviews of the chargrilled chicken last year, the staff changed the standard process to sear the chicken instead of grilling it to retain more of the chicken’s moisture. The improvements, Seitz said, is already evident in numbers.
“We used to go through between 400 or 500 pieces of chicken per meal for lunch and dinner. We’re actually upwards now to 1100 to 1200 pieces per meal.”
Lingering complaints along with positive reviews
Junior Emily Kirk, who mainly eats at NDH, said the dining hall experience compared to years past has been overall better, but that she still believes there’s improvements to be made, such as long lines.
“I’ve had friends who like wait an hour in that line,” Kirk said of the stir-fry line at the dining hall. “Most people don’t have time to do that. So, although it is a good option for food, it’s not always a practical one.”
Kirk said she also felt the salad offerings were not adequate.
“I like to get like a salad as like a backup option, but I feel like the salads are not that fresh,” she said.
Polking said, though he was happy with the overall dining experience, he has also experienced long lines.
“The lines are really long,” he said. “I don’t really know how you fix that, but at dinner last night, I waited for like 20 minutes just to get pasta.”
Despite this, Polking said he was not bothered by the overall dining hall experience compared to last year.
“I’m happy with it,” Polking said. “I don’t really have too many complaints.”
Sophomore Lucy Ordway, however, felt as though the dining hall experience has improved significantly from her first year.
“I think that the selection is better, and I also think that the quality of the food is better,” she said. “Tonight, at dinner, they had a much wider variety of vegetables and things that felt like I was eating healthier.”