The problems on the table: Expanding Dining Services’ success to Whitmans’

Over the past year, students have witnessed an impressive response to the closing of Dodd and Greylock dining halls from Dining Services, visible in the extended hours for all meal times, the addition of a new Grab ’n Go station at the Eco Café and improved menu options at the ’82 Grill. These changes have demonstrated the exceptional capacity of Dining Services and the administration to handle difficult situations and to be aware of students’ needs, and we commend them for their stellar effort. But as Dining Services continues to evaluate the student dining experience, it must remember that ease of access and the quality of day-to-day experiences remain crucial for students. Therefore, Dining Services must continue to examine ways to improve patrons’ experiences at one dining hall in particular: Whitmans’.

Students can be heard voicing a wide array of complaints about the campus’s most frequented dining hall. From the inconsistent quality of food to the seemingly endless lunch lines, there isn’t much about Whitmans’ that can get past students’ scrutiny. While some students are overly critical, Dining Services would do well to look more closely at those issues for which there are feasible solutions.

After the closing of Dodd and Greylock in spring 2010, Whitmans’ became the College’s central dining hall, both in terms of location and student usage. And despite its original purpose to serve only as a specialty dining hall, it has become overrun with students during peak mealtimes, especially at lunch. We understand that the structure of Paresky limits the dining hall’s capacity for speedy service; however, the length of the line in Whitmans’ is a chronic problem for students. Meanwhile, it has become increasingly obvious that Dining Services is operating with fewer employees than in the past. While we understand that financial constraints are still a harsh reality, terribly long lines at the sandwich, salad and pasta stations – with only one or two employees balancing all three spots – are simply untenable. Moreover, it puts an undue burden on the staff, who are forced to work even harder than they already do and to handle the ill will that some students bear because of the wait.

There are other ways to address the problem of lines beyond hiring. The Snack Bar complex at the front of Paresky could serve as yet another swipe and service station in Whitmans’. Dining employees could serve select dishes in this venue, freeing up kitchen space in Whitmans’ and decreasing the length of the line during peak mealtimes.

The other substantial issue outside of the wait is the quality, amount and variety of food available at Whitmans’. If Whitmans’ is going to serve as the College’s main dining venue – which the numbers show it does – then Dining Services needs to treat the venue with all-star attention and take on these issues, none of which are insurmountable.

There is no reason that Whitmans’ food cannot be just as good as the food at Mission and Driscoll, where the food is for the most part genuinely delicious. Dining Services needs to be cognizant of the fact that Whitmans’ is a step behind, and work to make improvements.

Meanwhile, nothing about the College’s dining plan explicitly stipulates that students are only allowed a certain amount of food at any dining hall. At the moment, there are significant restrictions at Whitmans’ that prevent students from eating all they might; for example, students cannot have both protein on their salad and meat sauce on their pasta. Although Paresky certainly has structural limitations, these restrictions are easily removed: Students should be allowed to take as much food as they want upon swiping into Whitmans’. Meanwhile, the dining hall could alleviate some of the staffing challenges by changing certain stations to buffet-style, as they do during the summer. This might be the best means of giving students more variety on their single trip through the dining hall.

Dining should also consider diversifying its weekly menu options. Luckily, Dining Services meets frequently and constantly solicits feedback from students and staff. If Dining Services can leverage this model and its history of responsiveness to continue to experiment with possible solutions, students will undoubtedly reap the benefits; it can also plan to use its own ingenuity and creativity in brainstorming appealing and diverse options. Bringing in occasional speciality items, adding new regular dishes into the mix and at least altering the order of the weekly meal rotation for lunch and dinner can make a significant difference in Whitmans’ appeal.

Large changes like the closure of Greylock and Dodd forced Dining Services and the campus at large into a pattern of scrutinizing our dining experience more closely. As more than half of the current student body no longer remembers what our dining landscape looked like before those closures, it seems the time has come to stop spending energy comparing today’s experience to that of two years ago, and to instead focus on the solutions that this year’s students require. Dining Services has thus far done an exceptional job, and continued evaluation is the best tool to maintain this standard of excellence. We look forward to Dining Services’ implementation of even more innovation and improvements in Whitmans’ and within dining at the College as a whole.