On March 1, students were invited to several focus groups, one for first years and sophomores and one for juniors and seniors, to discuss the food services on campus with representatives from a food services consultant. In an all-student email, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Joanne Goldwater said, “The college has engaged the services of a food services consultant, Porter Khouw, to help us envision what our food services facilities, operations, and board plans should like in the future.” The consultations are part of a 10 to 15 year master plan for the future of the campus.
The focus groups, held in Campus Center 228, were well-attended by students from all years. The session began with noting the positive aspects of Bon Appetit’s service, such as the effort to provide a variety of dishes and the recent experimentation with food composting. However, the majority of the session was a discussion of the flaws of the campus dining experience. The biggest issue was the lack of variety for vegetarian and vegan students. The vegetarian section of the dining hall reportedly is very small and does not offer an adequate or healthy selection for vegetarians and vegans. As one student put it, “Anyone who isn’t an omnivore gets the incredibly short end of the stick.”
Other large concerns from students were the short and inconvenient Great Room hours, the lack of health benefits of the food at the Great Room and The Pub, the poor quality and variety of food on the weekends, and the “ridiculous” blocks-to-dollars ratio. The students all agreed that an extension of the hours would drastically improve the dining experience at St. Mary’s, and another alternative location to get food, such as the River Center, would be more convenient for all.
Overall, students in attendance thought the event was a helpful outreach effort by the College. “In the sense that it represents the start of a process that will hopefully lead to long-term improvement, I would say that this was an excellent first step,” said first-year Jonathan Holtzman.
This open forum was merely one part of a grand vision for the future of the college. “It’s an opportune time to do this assessment,” said Chip Jackson, Associate Vice President for Planning and Facilities. “Bon Appetit…runs on five year contracts… Next fall, we will be beginning the solicitation for any food service operator to compete for the next five year contract. Doing this kind of assessment now is useful as we go into the next step…it’s a lot easier to make certain choices come true at the end of a contract period.”
The food service evaluation is one facet of the 10-15 year master plan in motion for the College, just at the beginning stages this March. “We’re doing an overall campus master plan which [deals with] facilities issues in general and then as subsets of that, there is a series of special studies that kind of act as feed-ins to help educate the process. One of them is food service master planning as a special study,” said Luke Mowbray, Facilities Planner and Sustainability Coordinator for the College.
“We are examining food services on campus from a variety of different perspectives, one being location, type, and orientation and design of facilities, the other being meal plan structures, so blocks versus flex and how that works for students….also customer satisfaction with the food options,” said Mowbray.