I grew up around a college campus, as my father is the Senior Food Services Director at a small university in northeastern Pennsylvania. As a result, I learned a lot about how food services departments work and should be run. I remember watching my dad walk around the dining hall to ask students if they were enjoying their meals and what Food Services could do better. The students knew who he was and were always happy to see him.
When I began attending Mount Holyoke College in 2011, I wondered how the college’s in-house (not outsourced) Dining Services would compare to my father’s style. Throughout my first and second years, I never saw Dining Services’ upper management team anywhere. I didn’t even know where their offices were located.
Curious about their whereabouts, I decided to investigate the headquarters of Dining Services’ day-to-day activities. It turns out that Dining Services’ offices are located across the street from the Mandelles. The sign advertising the offices isn’t big, so I could barely see it. When I finally found and entered the offices, I learned from Dining Services that they do reach out to the student body. Dining Services’ Associate Director John V. Fortini told me, “We pull ideas [for recipes] from bakers, magazines and cookbooks. Sometimes even students bring recipes.”
In other words, they expect the students to come to them with their suggestions for improving the meals. It shouldn’t be that way. Frankly, I’m disappointed. For a department that prides itself for trying “to keep up with the current trends of our student body,” according to Dining Services Director Dale M. Hennessey, they don’t seem to be present in everyday student life. In fact, my friends who are seniors claim that the Blanchard Café menu has not changed since they were first-years.
Since then, I can only recall seeing Dining Services’ upper management team interacting with the student body once. That was to talk about the local food products in their meals. I haven’t seen them walk around the different dining halls asking students how they think Dining Services could be doing a better job. How can a school expect to please its student body if it doesn’t bother to even have an open dialogue with them? It is like trying to solve an English crossword puzzle without knowing the English language.
I do have some suggestions about how they could be more proactive in the future. Dining Services should send surveys asking students how they feel about the meal choices, hold open meetings for students to discuss their ideas and suggestions, experiment with new options on the Blanchard Campus Center menu and replace older, less popular items or have a column in The Mount Holyoke News.
They could also hold a tour of their offices at the beginning of every year for new students, and be more transparent with the nutrition of their meals. The dining information cards don’t tell the students how big each portion of food should be, so the calorie count on the MHC Menu website is completely useless. They could feature a diagram of the proper portions of food on the cards and the website.
I want to love Dining Services; I really do.When I interviewed the members of the upper management team, they were all pleasant and sweet. I just wish they were more open in their communications with students. Despite their lack of stellar student interactions, I will always appreciate the Dining Services team who work hard to bring the student body their three meals per day. They are all wonderful people, especially John in the Rockies dining hall. I understand it can be a tough role to fill and students often take the staff’s hard work for granted, but I think it would be best for everyone involved if Dining Services would break bread with their students.
In the future, I hope to see Dining Services management walking around the various dining halls, and I hope to see students recognize and wave at them. Or maybe I’m just nostalgic for my childhood experience with my father’s Dining Services.