More to be done: a Dining Services critique

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By Dave Masterson

If you’ve taken the time to notice some of the changes in West or Upper this year, my guess is that you have welcomed them. A little paint and some small renovations went a long way to improve the aesthetic appeal of West, and the new “simply to- go” kiosk in Upper adds convenience and value to the meal plan. The soft-serve ice cream machines added to both dining halls are simply awesome, as is the all-day waffle bar in Upper. I have personally appreciated the new stands filled with fresh and local organic fruit.

While all of these changes have made for a more enjoyable dining experience, the fact remains that there are still some problems that need to be addressed.

Before this op-ed is dismissed as a vicious attack on Dining Services, let me be clear in stating that as far as college dining goes, we have it pretty good. There really are schools out there that serve atrocious food to their students on a daily basis. Union is not among them.

Indeed, I have been pleasantly surprised by some downright fantastic entrees in the dining hall on more than a few occasions. Dee-Ann’s delicious and original lunch specials and John’s tender and juicy steaks made dining in West last year a much more enjoyable experience. The salad bars in both dining halls offer truly fresh vegetables and a wide variety of them. The quality and selection of the Aspretto coffee and tea is outstanding. I have had some delectable sandwiches from the delis in both dining halls and the burgers in Upper are reliably good.

I can honestly say that I have always found something worth eating at every meal at Union. My friends at other schools cannot always say that. That’s not to say that I don’t have some grievances, which I will gladly share.

I personally dislike the fact that while a meal swipe is valued at over $9 in Upper, that same swipe is only valued at $3.50 in Skellar. If I’m going to be allowed to use a meal swipe, I should be able to use the full value of it.

It is a real issue that it can take up to 20 minutes to even get in the door of Upper at common lunch. The problem has only been exacerbated by the new “simply to-go” kiosk. While the new to-go system is convenient, the shelves are stocked with the same items every day. And am I the only one who wishes we were allowed to get more than one side?

It would be really nice if there were food options on campus open later than midnight. While Skellar is open until 1 a.m., that doesn’t help anyone who comes back hungry from the frats after they close.

The burgers and pizza in West leave much to be desired, which becomes a problem when they are one of the few alternatives to turkey every Tuesday. Furthermore, I’m starting to get annoyed that West runs out of plates and silverware towards the end of many meals, forcing us to use plastic ware and paper plates.

More than a few entrees in each dining hall have tasted overdone, rubbery, too salty or all of the above from time to time.

While I feel these gripes of mine are valid complaints, they really are small potatoes in light of the overarching quality of the food here. Yes, there are certainly things that need to improve, but I truly believe Dining Services has made many positive changes this year and will continue to improve itself as time goes on.

Much of the credit goes to David Gaul, who stepped in as the new director of Dining Services in the spring. Gaul has made it clear that he is sensitive to the concerns of students and wants to hear them. When I wrote a piece earlier this year detailing the inadequacy of our current meal plan structure, Gaul did not take offense or attempt to defend it. Instead he acknowledged that there was a problem and is continuing to work on fixing it.

Dining Services will be releasing a survey to the student body in the coming weeks that Gaul says will help them gauge the best ways to serve the student body in the future.

I urge every student to take the survey. It really can change the future of dining at Union, and with a man like Gaul listening, you’ll want to make sure your voice is heard. Dining at Union is heading in the right direction, and with input from all of us, I am confident that it will arrive at a place that makes all of us happy very soon.

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