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Articles: Dining Halls

Behind the scenes at the University of Vermont, chefs work with dining  program administrators to deliver student-requested items in a cost-effective manner. This can involve partnering with local food providers.

Colleges and universities that provide fresh, high-quality food do more than please students—offering good food is also good business. Here are several ways dining program leaders can increase satisfaction and meal plan participation while keeping operating costs stable.

Students, faculty and staff at the University of Vermont can eat foods prepared in the certified kosher kitchen, which is operated by Vermont Kosher LLC. In addition, a line of kosher grocery items is available for purchase.

What do you see as the biggest trend in meal plan design?

A pair of draft horses often plows the campus farm at Sterling College. Sterling does have tractors—its agriculture students have to learn how to use all varieties of equipment—but the energy-saving horses are just one step in the Vermont school’s extensive and award-winning sustainable dining program.

The farm produces about 20 percent of the food consumed in the college’s dining hall.

Whether it’s purchasing textbooks every semester or meeting daily needs such as meals, snacks or health and beauty aids, students who find the right dining and retail stores on campus have a better college experience.

Many higher ed institutions are adding shops and brand-name eateries, as well as renovating bookstores to keep up with current technology trends.

Half the profits from student-run food carts at the University of Illinois at Chicago go back to the institution, through a partnership with Chartwells Higher Education.

For today’s college students, on-the-go lifestyles present a challenge when it comes to finding time to eat, and, more specifically, eat well.

In 2010, when Adriana Marie Reyes of The University of Arizona surveyed 219 undergraduate students for her honors thesis on what influences college students’ eating habits, 82 percent said they would eat healthier if time were not an issue.

Fair trade is a model in which producers are paid above market, “fair trade” prices provided they meet specific labor, environmental and production standards. (Photo:  Photograph by James Rodriguez, 2013, Fair Trade USA. All rights reserved)

Last fall Cabrini College (Pa.) became one of only 17 colleges and universities in the United States to be recognized as a “Fair Trade College.” (The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh was the first in 2008.)

Students at Savannah College of Art and Design have a variety of dining styles and locations to choose from across campus.

Only one-third of 3,400 U.S. college students say they’re satisfied with their meal plans, found a survey by food industry research firm Technomic. But schools are finding that to address the problem, they need to go beyond simply improving what winds up on diners’ plates.

While location is key when it comes to campus dining, students also appreciate delicious, unique food options. Here are some schools that have added meal options that have become a hit with students:  

A number of dining service management companies have used guest chef programs to spice up the dining experience on client campuses.

Bob Sempek at Treat America says bringing in chefs from other colleges, as well as from some of the consulting company’s business and industry accounts, has generated enthusiastic response. Students get to watch visiting chefs prepare gourmet fare, while the chefs get to travel a bit and enjoy a change of scene.

Every dining services operator aims to maximize cost efficiency, and that means saving money as well as producing revenue.

At UMass, Dartmouth, combining full-service and self-service dining under the management of Chartwells, has helped to reduce labor costs and improve efficiency, according to auxiliary services director Jeff Augustine.

“We are getting a lot more hours out of our labor and services for our students than we did with our previous vendor,” Augustine says.

After a number of students at Lesley University (Mass.) sued the institution for not providing adequate/safe dining options for them, the Justice Department reached a settlement with Lesley officials. The university, which contracts with Bon Appetit Dining Services, agreed to amend policies and practices to:

cafeteria food

Continually provide both hot and cold gluten-free and allergen-free options in dining hall food lines. Allow students to pre-order allergen-free meals. Provide a dedicated space in the main dining hall to store and prepare gluten-free and allergen-free foods and to avoid cross-contamination.

Every year, the sustainability staff at UC Davis hosts a celebration to sum up its Meatless Monday campaign. Students learn about their impact, and, best of all, get to indulge in some free vegan ice cream.

Making dietary changes isn’t just a good idea for staying healthy—it’s a way of going green, too. Colleges and universities are quickly taking notice. By buying local and promoting eating less meat, they’re helping students change the way they think about food in their dining halls and across campus, for the health of not only the campus community, but the planet.

Think that a vegan diet is an oxymoron in cattle country? Not so at the University of North Texas, which has made following a plant-based diet very much a reality by building the Mean Greens dining hall. The idea for the vegan-only hall was developed out of student demand, and served an average of 4,500 students a day in the first week after opening August 22, shares Ken Botts, director of special programs for UNT Dining Services. “Students vote with their feet,” he says. “By showing they really, really liked it, we knew we made the right decision.”

In the event of a severe allergic reaction, a delay of even a few minutes in getting an epinephrine injection can make a scary situation deadly. That appears to be what happened to Kennesaw State University (Ga.) student Tyler Cody Davis, who, on August 18, ate at the campus dining hall, later returned there in distress to seek emergency assistance, and not long after was pronounced dead at a local hospital, according to a KSU statement.