By Lori Wysong
Meal plans and menu options are among several aspects of the Dining Services that may look different after new changes are implemented.
Prince Johnson, assistant dining director, met with the Student Government Association on Tuesday, Feb. 19, to discuss future changes, address concerns, and receive feedback from students.
“I get a lot of emails from administration and different places about concerns that students have but I would much rather hear those concerns directly from you,” he said.
Many of the changes are intended to improve the areas of sustainability, efficiency, student satisfaction, and appearance.
Students may have noticed new plates, floors, and a wall devoted to rules of good conduct from George Washington.
“Some of the cosmetic changes we made over Christmas break, we’re just trying to make it look a lot better,” Johnson said.
Another physical change to come will be the addition of steel straws, a change which would have been made sooner if the distributors made them more readily available.
Addressing the SGA, Johnson said, “I heard when I walked in you all talking about steel straws, and that’s something that we’re looking at too inside the dining hall, you know, as far as sustainability is concerned, we’re bringing in straws that are not disposable.”
One of the more major changes to meal plans will be the rollover of dining dollars for future semesters.
“There’s a lot more dining dollars in your meal plans this year, and a lot of you didn’t have a chance to spend all those dollars, so starting next year your dining dollars will roll over from semester to semester,” Johnson said. “As long as you get them spent by the spring semester, before the year’s over, you’re good to go.”
Discussing the quality of dining hall food, Holly Williams, a freshman and a vegetarian, had questions about the nutritional value of options for people with diet restrictions on campus.
“When there’s only, like, sweet potato, squash, broccoli rotating in and out, I’m still not getting everything I need,” Williams said.
Johnson said that the dining hall brought in nutritionists at the beginning of the semester to address student needs and will continue to do so in the future. He added that the dining hall is hoping to add more vegetarian, gluten-free and halal options. Johnson said he is considering moving from a four-week rotation to a six-week rotation of various dishes.
In response to other student concerns about hours of food availability, Johnson explained the reduced hours at Create.
“The reason why we did that is because we just didn’t have enough business during that time between like three and five to sustain keeping that place open during that time,” Johnson said.
At the same time, students had complaints of inflexibility among dining hall workers. Senior Josh Peterson, SGA financial controller, told the story of a friend who, after waiting in line for Create, was turned away at 3:58 p.m. because it was about to close.
“You never know what’s going on be- hind the scenes for students especially this time of year, especially for seniors who have thesis deadlines this week — it’s crazy,” Peterson said.
“I agree with you, flexibility is something not ‘we should,’ but ‘we have to’ have,” Johnson said. “It’s those type of things that we have to talk to our staff about.”
At the same time, Dining Services has been trying to compensate for reduced hours at Create by adding Jack & Olive brand food options at Java George. Starting in early March, Java George will be open at 9 a.m. on weekends instead of 10 a.m. to allow students access to students. In addition, Johnson is considering opening Martha’s Kitchen earlier on weekends.
There were also questions about whether Sophie’s Café, which currently does not accept dining dollars, could eventually do so in the future to become more easily accessible to students.
According to Johnson, Sophie’s Café is operated not by the College, but by a company called Canteen, which makes the process of using dining dollars there more complex.
“We’re having those conversations right now, and hopefully I’ll have a more concrete answer for you by the end of the semester or by our next meeting,” Johnson said.
Dining Services is also discussing bringing food trucks or other dining options to campus in the warmer months of the year.
As to whether students could ever use dining dollars at local restaurants, Johnson said, “Being transparent, the school makes quite a bit of money off meal plans … If you go off campus the restaurants get a percentage of those funds.”
Johnson said that he has received comments about off-campus options more than once and will continue to look into it.
Johnson believes that much of the dissatisfaction with the number of options available at different times of day stems from inefficiencies that lead to slow preparation, causing lines to be long at Martha’s Kitchen in the evenings.
“What everybody’s going to see after the summer break is, we’re making Martha’s and Create a lot more efficient,” he said. “Even when you do have to wait, I think there’s a way to communicate to make you all feel comfortable while you’re waiting.”
Part of this increased efficiency will involve further training of staff.
On a positive note, Koy Langless, a senior, said that the current staff members are doing a great job, and often make his day.
“I’ve been here for four years, and I’ve seen a lot of staff members come in and out, but you have some great staff members,” he said.
Johnson said that Dining Services does its best to maintain its staff members, but it is difficult to recruit and maintain staff in such a rural area as Chestertown.
Johnson concluded the question and answer session by asking for more student feedback in order to provide better service in the future.
“My email is pjohnson4[@washcoll. edu] and I want to hear from you.”
Zariel Luna contributed to this article.