In dining we trust

Earlier this week a completely unscientific poll on WSO told me two things about Williams students. The first is that we’re normal in that all respondents indicated that the new dining hall system is unfavorable as compared to the old one. Given that three dining halls is fewer than five dining halls, that’s no surprise. The second is that many of us are cynical about the odds of the new system operating effectively throughout the year.

I agree that there have been some big letdowns, as well as improvements, these first few days, but I don’t see the problems we’re experiencing as evidence of a failed system. We have to remember that the financial planners of the College had to make this decision. In other words, Dining Services has had only a very short amount of time to make very large changes. I have hope that the kinks will get worked out. In the meantime, we still have a problem of execution.

Among the problems and broken promises in the new system that need to be addressed, the first is lines. At Whitmans’, the lines get long but move steadily. It’s not the end of the world. The opening of a second register helps with this. At Driscoll, on the other hand, the length of the lines can be simply immoral. It was scary to see the line at Driscoll backed all the way up to Prospect. During the winter, people will have to spill over to Whitmans’, making lines into a problem there, too.

Unfortunately for those spillovers, Whitmans’ itself is plagued with problems. We’ve been short-changed. We were told at the all-campus meeting last year that the dining hall closures would result in higher-quality meals. And to be sure, while the food at Driscoll – which was already great last year – is even better this year, the meal quality at Whitmans’ has not improved. Their chicken is still drier than bones, and they still have rigid restrictions on protein and sides.

Don’t you find it dumbfounding that after closing two buffet-style dining halls, you are still not allowed to have a side with protein? It’s as if the rules were designed to feed birds. Eight grams of protein is just not enough – which is one of the many reasons why athletes flock to Driscoll.

And what about their grains? Did you check to see what they are made out of? I can tell you the answer: cheap, unhealthy, high-fructose corn syrup. Whitmans’ still does not offer a healthy selection of grains and buns like Driscoll does and Dodd and Greylock did. Given that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises you to make grains into the largest single part of your diet, you should not have to eat bread made with high-fructose corn syrup, bleach or any other toxic by-product.

With that said, the staff has remained (as always) friendly, though it’s evident that the changes have been a big stress on them as well. Cooks and assistants who used to chat for a few moments here and there are too busy trying to move the lines along to do so now. What’s more, I saw a (normally very friendly) dining services worker yell impatiently at a student who took two or three seconds to make a decision. Clearly, the inefficiency of the food collection process is a problem.

This becomes terribly obvious at Snack Bar, a.k.a. Whitmans’ Late Night. Because the system is now self-pick-up, anybody who ordered an item in common with you can come in and take your item as their own, forcing you to wait longer for their item. This system needs to be revamped. On the other hand, the ’82 Grill is better than ever. Do I even have to say anything more than $7 pizza, new chairs and new tables? We are spoiled beyond any measure of a doubt in the Grill. Besides, the class banners are a terrific aesthetic addition.

Again, I have faith that the kinks will be worked out and quality improved. With that said, I predict that a greater number of upperclassmen (myself included) will move down to the 10-meal and 14-meal plans than in prior years. Occupants on the fringes of Wood and Dodd Neighborhoods will find it more convenient to cook for themselves than make the trek to Paresky in the winter. And between the state of the economy, the lines and the rigidity of Whitmans’, it’s a no-brainer for me to save money and eat healthier by moving down to the 10. We’ve all got to learn to cook some day. It may as well be now.