Dining services are an essential part of any college campus, especially one as full of foodies as Willamette University. However, because food and drink are so personal and important socially, physically and emotionally, it can be quite a challenge to please everyone all the time.
Recent changes to certain dining facilities and plans have been made with these challenges in mind. Nonetheless, some changes have attracted an amount of student attention, for good reason. A meeting with Lindsey Leisinger, director of dining services at Willamette, helped clarify the rationale behind some of these decisions and shed insight as to how students can give feedback on future dining services projects. She talked about meal plan cost, changes to meal plan organization, a new Montag store and how students can get involved in shaping their dining experiences.
This year brings a slight increase in the prices of meal plans across the board, which can be troubling for students. As Leisinger noted, price increases reflect food price changes in the larger community. This most recent change is simply a reflection of higher food prices and a greater commitment to sustainability on behalf of Bon Appetit, the larger company that runs food service across Willamette’s campus.
Some returning students have also expressed concerns to the changes in meal plans to Willamette this year. In particular, a cheaper plan has been eliminated, and another plan with vastly more points and a correspondingly higher cost has been introduced in its place.
As Leisinger explained, “We’re trying to be mindful of student feedback.”
This last change was the direct result of student feedback last year combined with an independent investigation led by University officials like Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Whipple and Housing Director Scott Etherton into how other universities structure their plans.
Leisinger reported that some students, especially student athletes, felt like they weren’t able to eat enough during the day and would have to wait until “All You Care to Eat” meals in order to get the food they needed. This new meal plan structure is designed for students to be less limited in how much they can eat, which is important for active and just plain hungry students both.
One change on many students’ minds is the conversion of the Montag Store, which was a student staffed convenience store up until this year, into a 24-hour vending machine-only location. The dining staff chose to enact this transition because of overwhelming student feedback in favor of longer hours and more access to snacks. Eliminating student staff from Montag means that snacking will be available any time of day or night and that a student employee will not have to stand by the counter for long stretches of inactivity.
Leisinger also noted that more and more varied vending machines could become available in the future if there is enough student presence in Montag to justify their installation. Like many of the changes listed above, student feedback played an important role in the change.
Even with no major changes on the horizon, it’s still useful for dining staff to know what students like, what they don’t like and how students can be better served.
Leisinger emphasized the three main ways that students can make their voices heard: comment cards, contacting the Dining Advisory Committee and speaking to dining staff directly. Comment cards and recipe request forms are available at all dining facilities, and can be submitted anonymously. Each form is reviewed by hand and will be discussed at a later staff meeting. Dining Advisory Committee members have their pictures and contact information posted at Goudy Commons and are representatives who advise Willamette dining staff with student concerns and potential solutions. Finally, staff at both Goudy and Kaneko are always available for feedback, whether face-to-face or via email. Of course, being polite and respectful might help your point get through. As Leisinger pointed out, “There’s a person behind all of this!”
Meals at Willamette have changed quite a bit over the years, and will continue to evolve as student needs and desires become apparent. Asking questions about what doesn’t make sense and speaking up about what you as a student prefer is not only tremendously useful to the dining staff, but these practices will go a long way in allowing change to be enacted. Dining staff really do want to help.