Students adapt to dining hall developments

After the closing of Dodd and Greylock dining halls last year, the College has undertaken several construction and renovation projects over the summer and extended dining hall hours across the board to meet the increased traffic flow at mealtimes and to cope with crowding. While many Dining Services staff are working on new schedules in new locations on campus, students, too, have spent the last week adjusting to the reorganized dining environment.

Structural changes

To outfit its three dining venues with the capability to handle more students at a time, the College has added more cooking appliances to the kitchens of all three dining halls on campus. Some menu changes have been introduced as well.

Driscoll is now equipped with two food service stations, a new marche station and the original kitchen station, which is now outfitted with a double-deck convectional oven, a charcoal grill and a breakfast grill, said Bob Volpi, director of Dining Servies.In addition, the cashier station was relocated to the upper level of the building to make for more efficient progress through the line, said Volpi.

To create more seating space in Driscoll, the College transformed an office area and a storage area upstairs into separate dining rooms. A second dessert station and a second beverage station were added upstairs as well.

According to Michael Briggs, senior project manager for the College, renovations and structural reorganizations in Driscoll totaled $300,000.

In Mission Park dining hall, the College installed a $4500 Tandoori oven in an effort to provide a more diverse and unique cuisine. The clay oven is one of two significant menu changes at Mission this fall. Volpi said the dining hall also plans to run a sushi station, where trained dining staff members will prepare sushi for students.

Mission Park also received a designated “allergy free zone” which Volpi explained as a four-door refrigerator installed to store food for students with food allergies. The total project cost for Mission Park was $80,000.

As a central location on campus, Whitmans’ dining hall in Paresky Center is becoming a central dining hall for many students. To handle a larger crowd, Dining Services and the College have implemented several structural changes, totaling $240,000 in the dining venue.

The checkout station at Whitmans’ has been reconfigured to allow students to swipe for meals upon entrance into the dining hall instead of as they leave. The intention was to reduce congestion at the exit, Volpi said.

Whitman’s will now also serve students late night, taking the place of Lee Snack Bar as the after dinner equivalency option. The College has installed a gelato and smoothie station and a breakfast cereal station. Six new television screens will display a la carte menu items at Whitman’s and serve as a replacement for the buzzer system formerly used at Snack Bar.

Other structural changes include the addition of a new Grab n’ Go location at the Eco Café, which will be kept separate from the breakfast options previously offered. The College spent $70,000 on updates to the Eco Café.

Schedule changes

To reduce overcrowding during peak mealtimes, the College has extended the dinner hours in Driscoll, Mission Park and Whitman’s until 8:00 p.m.

Meals will be served continuously in Whitman’s from 7:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., with breakfast being served from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., “lite lunch” from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 to 2:00 p.m. To replace Snack Bar, Whitman’s will also serve food from 8:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. seven days a week.

The ’82 Grill will remain open from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Eco Café will serve breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and offer Grab n’ Go lunches until 2:00 p.m.

Staffing changes

To accommodate the increased hours of operation in the dining halls on campus, Dining Services has increased working hours for some of its staff members. According to Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of student dining, these staff members were with additional benefits. Abayasinghe said Dining Services “provided opportunities for our staff to meet with us to review the schedule changes and make accommodations as needed to help them balance their work and life commitments.” He added that Dining Services tried to keep in mind staff members’ former schedules and scheduling needs when adapting to the new hours of operation.

“We committed to employing all the dining staff who chose not to take the
early retirement package made available to all eligible employees,” Abayasinghe said. “We did not lay off [anyone] or reduce anyone’s hours.”

Abayasinghe said that several Dining Services employees have chosen to participate in the Early Retirement Program, causing the College to begin the process of hiring new employees to fill any vacancies left by those who departed.

Student Reactions

After spending just over a week adjusting to the new dining environment on campus, students have expressed diverse attitudes and opinions on the changes that have transformed the campus’s remaining three dining halls over the summer.

Some students are worried about longer lines and overcrowding at dining venues during peak mealtimes.

“The lines this year are absurd, and one really has to get there right at 5:00 if they want to have any chance at avoiding the lines,” said Zach Whitney ’12.

Whitney said that while he believes that Dining Services is doing all it can to work with a difficult situation, he sees little that has improved since last year.

“I don’t really expect the situation to get much more efficient,” Whitney said, “because the problems are primarily caused by the fact that there are now fewer places for students to [eat], and the full volume of students must now be spread among almost half as many dining halls.”

Brendan Majev, ’11, said that while it is sometimes difficult to find seating in Driscoll, he has had better luck at Mission Park and Whitman’s. Additional seating has been added to Baxter Hall in Paresky Center to accommodate overflow during mealtimes.

Majev added that the extended dining hours are one of the most-improved aspects of dining this fall but also admitted that students do not or cannot always take advantage of the lengthened meal schedule.

“As far as extending breakfast and lunch hours, that’s pretty much irrelevant, especially during lunch, where extended hours honestly do not help in the slightest because people will still have class,” Majev said.

Grace Bouton ’14 has never really experienced dining as it existed in the past. Other than visiting her sister, who also attended the College, the first-year and Mission Park resident said she can really only relate to the present. But she did say that the lunch and dinner lines in Mission are often “insane.”

“Lines were especially long the first few days,” Bouton said.

Volpi said that these sorts of kinks in the system are expected in the beginning, and any other inefficiencies in the new dining system should work themselves out over time.

“The first few days of school are not a good barometer for how long the lines will be the entire year,” said Peter Skipper ’13. “Hopefully after upperclassmen have changed their meal plans and most people have settled into their schedules, long lines won’t be such an issue.”

Despite more time spent in line, some students have noticed the subtle menu changes that Dining Services instituted for the fall.

Bouton and her friend Jennifer Chan ’14 said they share one personal favorite: the sweet potato fries at Whitmans’ that are served as snack food late-night.

“The quality of food still varies from dining hall to dining hall, but I think overall it has improved,” Skipper said.

“I’ve noticed that the food is very good,” said Kevin Lawkins, ’13.

Lawkins said he was also impressed by the convenience offered by ready-made food in Whitmans’ at night, but not by the inconvenience of no longer having to-go boxes in Whitmans’ or the ’82 Grill.

Instead of using disposable to-go boxes, students must sign up for the Reusable Eco Shell Program. For an opt-in price of four dollars, students can pick up a reusable food tray at any dining hall and then return it to be cleaned after use. Reusable bags are being given out to students to use at Grab n’ Go as well.

“It’s hugely inconvenient,” Skipper said. “I asked if I could get one of the ‘eco-friendly’ to-go boxes, and they sent me to Paresky. Paresky told me they hadn’t started giving them out yet.”

Going forward

While the College has already experienced many significant structural and logistical changes concerning dining, more planning may be in the works. The College’s Implementation Committee is tasked with researching and brainstorming innovative ways the College can use the money saved by the closing of Dodd and Greylock dining halls to better the current dining system on campus with long-term “investments” to make dining more appealing to students.

Ian Nesbitt ’13, a member of the committee, said ideas that the committee has been considering include a late-night cafe in Mission Park and self-serve drink dispensers at the ’82 Grill.

Nesbitt noted one small yet significant aspect of dining that few students have noticed: In Paresky Center, dish drop-off stations near the Lee Snack Bar and on the second floor have been set up to ease congestion in the dish drop off line adjacent the dining hall downstairs.

Nesbitt said he appreciates the subtle improvements and is looking forward to more, especially in regards to employing the former Dodd and Greylock dining areas.

As for the three remaining dining halls on campus, Dining Services and students will continue to adjust to this fall’s changes.

Skipper said he believes one challenge that lies ahead “is going to be maintaining an open and frank dialogue between students and those in charge of implementing the new dining plan about what works and what doesn’t.”

Volpi is optimistic. “We’re going to have a better program than what we had in the past, because of new equipment and ideas, and the fact that we can concentrate on three [dining halls] and do a better job,” he said.

Bouton believes that when all is said and done, students will still have everything they need.

“People can whine about how it’s not how things are at home,” she said, “but when it comes down to it, you can always eat something.”