Almost a year after it began operating Penn's dining halls, food service management firm Bon Appetit is still working to settle into its role on campus. Residential dining services were outsourced to the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company last May amid promises of superior food options and improved service. But while some changes have been instituted, including expanded a la carte options and increased theme dining events, both University officials and students say there is still room for improvement. "It just needs more variety," College junior David Rice said of dining hall food. Penn and Bon Appetit officials said they are working to improve the quality and service at dining halls across campus. "You always strive to get better," said Elaine Smart, director of Bon Appetit's residential dining services at the University. "I think this year is a transition year for the Penn managers, for Bon Appetit [and] for the current Penn employees." Dining has held several round table discussions to seek suggestions from students. In the fall, Dining officials conducted a survey jointly with the Undergraduate Assembly. In the survey, students expressed doubts over whether dining was capable of preparing a wide variety of food. Most gave dining an overall rating of six on a 10-point scale. College freshman Aasta Mehta noted that there are a lack of options in dining. "There's not really that much variety for vegetarians, at least," she said. Dining officials said offering a greater variety of food is one of their top priorities. "We have to be observant of the multiculturalism on the campus," Smart said. "We can't just cook Philadelphia, we have to cook vegetarian and Indian and authentic Indian." Chefs from the Moosewood Restaurant, located in Ithaca, N.Y. and well-known for vegetarian cooking, were brought to campus in January to teach campus chefs about vegetarian foods, according to Managing Director of Campus Dining Peg Lacey. Lacey said more special events and a focus on fresh foods were two particular improvements this year. "Almost everything is a fresh product," Lacey said. "If you have broccoli in the dining halls, it's fresh broccoli, fresh beans, everything." Both Lacey and Smart emphasized the importance of student input. "I can't stress enough that we encourage participation from all students," Smart said. "They're our customers and we're here to serve them." And while officials are working to improve the food, they also want to better the service in the individual eateries. Dining hall employees attended a day-and-a-half long workshop on customer service at the beginning of the year, Lacey said. The recent UA survey also showed that students were confused about the logistics of the dining operations. Some said they were concerned with the hours of operation of the dining halls and confused by certain policies, especially regarding guest passes and the "dining dollars" included with many meal plans. In response, campus dining extended the operating hours of the Hill College House dining hall and will distribute flyers explaining the use of "dining dollars," Lacey said. She noted that dining continues to consider making further changes to operating hours for next semester, based on data on the use of the dining halls. Other improvements that Bon Appetit is hoping to make include integrating dining more closely into the college house system and increasing the individuality of the dining halls, Smart said. Bon Appetit also plans to add more a la carte options, like wrap and taco stations, and cook-to-order foods in the dining halls. "I also see having each unit really getting its own identity," Smart said. "Historically, all the units ran basically the same menu, and we're really trying to change that."Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.