For the love of Dodd Dining Hall

Last week, a thread posted on Williams Students Online (WSO) sparked rumors that Dodd Dining Hall might be in danger of closing permanently because of its supposedly dwindling meal attendance. Students love Dodd’s comfortable coziness, but does that unique atmosphere convince enough students to take a few more steps to get to dinner? Is Dodd in jeopardy? Luckily for the students who love the unique meals, warm lights and frequent musical group appearances, the answer is no, according to Bob Volpi, director of Dining Services.

While there is a sizeable group of students, composed largely of Dodd residents, who favor eating at Dodd, some are worried that there are not enough of those students to sustain the dining hall. Leo Brown ’11, who started a WSO thread on the topic, said he was “concerned – Dodd is my favorite dining hall, but I was worried that if not enough people eat there, it wouldn’t be cost-effective to keep it open.”

Rumors that Dodd could close in the near future stemmed from President Schapiro’s recent statement that in the economic crunch faced by the College in the 1980s, some dining halls were closed. Since the Paresky Center opened in early 2007, Dodd Dining Hall eliminated lunch and breakfast, and after a neighborhood-wide vote last year, it stopped offering dinner on Fridays and Saturdays in exchange for weekday continental breakfast.

There has been a general drop in attendance at Dodd, but according to Volpi it is in line with what has been seen across the board at the other dining halls since Paresky’s opening, and Dodd is still seeing an average 60 to 65 people at dinner and 30 to 40 for its continental breakfast. Volpi said that Dodd is in no immediate danger of closing, but added that if the attendance figures for dinner were to drop to around 40, his department would reconsider.

Still, according to Volpi, “The chefs and support staff are doing an excellent job, and Dodd needs to stay.” Quelling any rumors that Dodd is coming near to closing its doors, Volpi said that there has been “no discussion of closing Dodd.”

The staff has made adjustments to the menu this year in an effort to improve the quality of the food, and has been hosting theme dinners and working with student groups to host special events. An additional reason for a drop in Dodd attendance was the move of Kids’ Night to Greylock, but now instead of having a single-night spike to keep the average dinner attendance around 60 for the week, Dodd is seeing a much more steady 60 people nearly every night. “Last year, the count was lower during the week, but rose to nearly 200 on Kids’ Night,” Volpi said. “It’s better this way, now that it’s more even.”

Dodd staff and student frequenters share an appreciation for the small dining hall’s warm atmosphere. Low ceilings and wooden tables are nestled into a single room, offering a stark contrast to the vast spaces and multiple rooms found at some of the other campus eateries. “I love the atmosphere here; it’s a much smaller setting and it’s homey,” said Ildiko Bodor, a preparation and service attendant at Dodd.

Dodd’s small size offers the staff unique opportunities. Many have worked there for several years, and their time together has created strong bonds between them. “I love to work with my colleagues, and they make great food,” Bodor said.

Peter Armstrong, the head kitchen chef at Dodd, appreciates how, as opposed to the other campus dining halls in which he has worked, cooking in Dodd gives him the chance to spend the time and effort needed to make each meal special. “In the larger [dining halls], the food is mass-produced. Here, the chicken you’re seeing being cooked in front of you is the chicken that you’ll eat,” Armstrong said while artfully garnishing a plate of breaded chicken with tomatoes, oranges and chives. “The staff at the other halls don’t have the time for small touches.”

Dodd staff members who do not usually work in the kitchen can participate in the cooking if they wish. Bodor worked with a kitchen staff member to hand dip apples in melted candy and shards of coconut for last Thursday’s special Homecoming dinner. “It was so much fun; that’s why it feels like home,” she said.

Students who prefer eating at Dodd show their appreciation. “A student gave us a card the other day that said we are the best on campus, and that’s how I feel too,” Bodor said.

“The students who come here like the food a lot,” said Thoeun Ching, who has been a dishwasher at Dodd for 10 years. “They keep coming back, and they say hi to us, so this is like home to me,” she said.

Employees said that, while a Dodd closure is not in the imminent future, the prospect is still a concern. “I would be devastated [if it closed], and the students would be too,” Bodor said. “I love it here. I don’t want to work anywhere else.”

Armstrong shares a similar sentiment. “[It would be] like a loss of your home,” he said. “[Dodd] is a hidden treasure to Dining Services.”

Several students expressed their gratitude that the smallest of all the campus dining halls would not be closing. “I’d be against closing Dodd because it’d put more pressure on the other dining halls, and Dodd is very underrated,” said Nora Mitchell ’10, a Junior Advisor. “The food has improved from last year, and it has a great cozy atmosphere.” Mitchell said she tries to take her entry to Dodd whenever she can.