Dining hall mysteries solved!

An often-pondered enigma for Williams College students involves the seemingly arbitrary differences from one dining hall to the next. Sliced tomatoes in Mission, but cherry tomatoes in Baxter? Why does Greylock have kiwis and Baxter have pears? What happened to my favorite raspberry salad dressing? Where are the sprinkles in Mission? And how many of us have actually eaten in Dodd this year? It turns out there is a method to the dining hall madness.

A large number of hard working, dedicated individuals comprise the dining services team, which is responsible for making the choices that determine our diets while at school. Believe it or not, there is a system that governs our menu choices: some food products must be available daily, some must be alternated and some are left to the whims of each dining hall purchaser and staff. For example, each salad bar must feature a basic assortment of vegetables and staples that cannot be altered. However, while the dining hall must provide a fat free dressing, whether it is fat free Italian or Ranch may change from day to day and from dining hall to dining hall. The staff at each dining hall responds to incidents of supply and demand, and reacts to the tastes of its clientele.

While dining halls vary according to the wants of their patrons, each individual unit features weekly and daily specials. In addition to well-known daily offerings such as the Baxter pasta bar, Mission pizza and Greylock brunch night, this year, Dodd and Driscoll will provide exciting variety for the sophisticated culinary tastes. Dodd has already begun its deli lunch program, with its freshly baked, high quality breads and a more gourmet array of lunch foods. Associate Director of Dining Services Alex de Silva said, “the motivation behind Dodd deli lunch is both to offer a greater variety to students, and to increase the patronage to Dodd during the day. Already we have seen a forty percent increase in lunch attendance.”

This year Driscoll too will add to the diversity in the Williams students’ palates with features such as Monday jalapeno poppers and mozzarella sticks, Tuesday hot pockets, Wednesday sushi bar and a variety of other dining delicacies.

What is the motivation behind all the new initiatives for variety in dining services? According Dining Services Nutritionist Ginny Skorupski, “Our goal here at dining services is to provide a healthy variety for all different tastes. The rotation of certain goods is important to guard against stagnation. If you eat at the same dining hall for four years straight and every day the only salad dressing is Italian, you will get bored. Changes in daily offerings and a wide array of choices is key to the quality of our operations.”

This desire for variety and choice is the impetus behind each dining hall having its own management. While the basic menu is consistent for all dining halls, product purchasing is left to the staff of each unit. Thus, kiwis show up only in Greylock, while Nestle Crunch topping recently visited Mission, but not Driscoll.

To further add to the variety offered to the Williams eater, the Dog House was expanded last year to include the Underground Express. This year, Grab and Go lunch has been revamped further to include more choices of wraps and side salads for students on the go. Contrary to recent rumors, Underground Express is not part of the unlimited access program of the meal plan. If you eat at the Underground Express you may not re-enter a dining hall until dinner. “In past years students have figured out ways to abuse the system. This causes problems for the staff which is working hard to please everyone. Such dishonesty is not fair to students or staff and if it occurs frequently, will force us to re-visit the policy of unlimited access,” says Skorupski.

Clearly Williams College dining services works to provide options for the student eater, but another goal includes providing high quality, fresh offerings. While the seafood at many other schools and institutions arrives frozen and pre-prepared, Williams serves mostly fresh seafood. Also, the produce is purchased from local growers, when possible. Items such as fresh cut french fries at Dodd and fresh baked breads nightly in all dining halls set Williams dining apart from other institutions. The Bake Shop is located in Baxter and produces savory desserts and breads which are unparalleled, as anyone who has ever tried the Irish soda bread can attest.

Dining services also prides itself on using high quality, nationally recognized brands. Cereals are actually Kellogg’s and General Mills, salad dressings are Kraft and Ken’s and those Sun Chips really are Frito-Lay. These are not generic products; Williams students eat the real thing.

Students should be aware that dining services’ number one priority is pleasing them. “The staff loves to get to know individual students and will try to please their particular tastes. If you need something, or have special dietary needs, the staff is more than willing to help you. My number one advice to students is to make friends with people who work at their regularly frequented dining hall,” says Skorupski. Furthermore, if there are changes you would like to see implemented, speak up, because people do listen. You can electronically submit a comment card at the Williams Dining Services website, or fill out napkin suggestions. If you and all your friends just need to have Fruity Pebbles at every meal, Skorupski suggests that you “gather an army of people who feel the same way you do and speak up! Send a lot of napkin notes and make yourselves be heard.”

In closing we would like to address an especially disturbing mystery of dining at Williams. The question is: why are the glasses at Mission so miniature that a regular student needs four and athletes need a full tray of Powerades to satisfy their thirsts? The answer is that this very issue is being addressed due to complaints, and, says de Silva, “we have a long range plan to revamp the glass size throughout the dining halls. Currently we are replacing one unit at a time and Mission happens to be the last dining hall to see this change.”

Hopefully this expose has shed light on the inner workings of our intricate dining system. Some mysteries remain unsolved (Viking Clippers?), but many are solved by Dining Services’ philosophy of variety, quality and individuality.

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