Following student feedback and trends in historical data, Dining Services has made several changes to its offerings this semester, including adding a daily lunch-time burger bar, serving hot food on Wednesdays at Grab-N-Go and extending weekend hours.
Burger Bar serves both a meat and veggie patty Monday through Friday, with the type changing each day. Traditional beef burgers are served on Tuesdays and Fridays, turkey burgers are served on Mondays and Thursday and chicken quinoa burgers are served on Wednesdays. Burger Bar is located in the station that typically serves pasta at dinner and before this semester, usually sat empty throughout lunch.
In addition to using space that was previously empty, one of the other main aims of Burger Bar is to better handle the crowds that flock to Val for lunch. “We want to try and utilize that space so we can move the crowd so that it’s not as intense for everybody,” Director of Dining Services Joseph Flueckiger said. “If we can disperse that crowd a little bit and make it easier for people to get what they want, get back to their table, enjoy some time with their friends and still have time to get back to class, that’s what we’re after.”
While Flueckiger has heard mostly positive feedback from students, he acknowledges that there are still areas for improvement. “I’ve heard a lot of feedback about Burger Bar,” Flueckiger said. “People like it, but they’re starting to ask for new toppings, not just the onions, peppers and mushrooms, which we’ll definitely start doing some research on and figure out what toppings would work best.”
Henry Walker ’20 believes that there’s a need for variety in Burger Bar in order to make it a viable daily option. “Burgers are something that are very easy to get sick of and if those are a daily alternative, people are going to get tired of them really quickly,” Walker said.
Another concern that some have is the environmental impact that serving beef twice more each week may have. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, raising beef requires significantly more land and water. Additionally, cattle tend to release five times more greenhouse gas emissions than poultry.
“One of the things we are going to be testing out this semester, is that we’re trying to find a good blended burger,” Flueckiger said. “It’s a blend between mushrooms and beef and the flavor is really excellent. We haven’t found one that really holds together yet, but we’re going to continue to look into that since beef consumption is a problem for the environment.”
In an effort to be more environmentally friendly, containers in Grab-N-Go that hold sides have all been made compostable, an idea suggested by Grab-N-Go employee Pete Charron, according to Flueckiger. Other changes to Grab-N-Go include a more comprehensive waste system that helps students sort their trash, as well as the addition of hot food such as pizza and calzones on Wednesdays.
Fluekiger said that while there’s not yet a set date, there are plans to add sushi as an option for students at some point in the future.
While food might be the main focus of changes to Val, its hours are also undergoing alterations. Val will now be open until 8:30 p.m. on Friday nights and will also be open for “Late Lunch” on weekends from 2:30 until 4:30 p.m. Flueckiger noticed on Friday nights that students would come in at the last minute. After extending the hours without much advertisement, he found that over 100 students came in between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.
In addition to longer Friday hours, Flueckiger said that Val will be open for Late Lunch to better fit the “continuous dining model” that many schools have.
“I hate to have the resource like the dining hall closed during the day,” Flueckiger. “Students like to eat at odd hours sometimes, so we should be open whenever we can. Maybe the menu offerings are a little bit lighter, but I think having Val as an option to just come in for cereal, waffles or whatever the case may be is a good option.”
Students like Kyra Raines ’20 are looking forward to the increase in weekend hours. “I do think I’ll use the new hours,” she said. “I don’t go there too often but it is nice to work somewhere that’s often pretty quiet with free food and free coffee.”
Many of these changes came about after collaboration between the Dining Services Counsel, which includes three AAS senators, and Flueckiger. Louis Briones ’19, who’s an AAS senator, served on the counsel this year.
“The three of us [AAS Senators] don’t reflect the views of the entire student body, so we decided to make a survey in an attempt to figure out what changes students wanted most,” Briones said. “We ended up recording about 500 or so unique student responses and looked closely at common themes and items brought up.”
One change that may not be as noticeable as Burger Bar is the elimination of blackened catfish from the Val dinner menu.
“Of course he couldn’t agree to every suggestion we had, but there were a lot of areas that we think improved Val,” Briones said. “Eventually, when people don’t see blackened catfish anymore, they’ll realize the willingness Joe has to put the best menu out there, and soon it’ll be a happily forgotten memory like the infamous Val Noodle Bar.”
As for the future, Flueckiger plans to keep on making changes in order to meet students’ needs and wants. This includes getting rid of some of the least popular items on the menu and replacing them with dishes that students will have the opportunity to sample beforehand.
“The biggest thing I would like to see is to increase the engagement of students in food issues, as well as in the dining program,” Flueckiger said. “The more we are in dialogue about what we’re doing, the more we’re going to give you what you want. Ultimately, we are here to serve the campus community and the way to do that is to collaborate.”