Guest Writer: Jacey Crawford
When it comes to food, AU students are offered a variety of different options; the Marketplace, Raven’s Haven, and Create all exist solely to keep students full and content. However, recent comments and complaints have sparked a campus-wide discussion about the quality and efficiency of dining services. Food Services have even become part of this year’s SGA presidential campaigns.
Students, SGA and staff alike all have something unique to contribute to the conversation about dining on campus. Senior Jason Rowland voiced his opinion about his four years of campus dining experience.
“You never know what the quality is going to be day-to-day, or even meal-to-meal,” Rowland said. “It could be good, or it could be really bad.”
Rowland believes that the problem with food quality can be traced back to the recent change in meal plans offered.
“The cost for meal plans was increased so that we could offer higher quality food,” Rowland explained. “Although there has been a wider variety of food offered, the quality of the food has gone down, while the increase of a meal plan cost has gone up.”
For sophomore Kaleigh Meeks, the dilemma with Food Services goes beyond the quality of the food or the variety of what is offered. Struggling with a severe intolerance to gluten, Meeks finds it difficult to eat at the Marketplace, the Haven or Create.
“They have super limited options for people who struggle with allergies and intolerances,” Meeks said. “Even most of the gluten-free options offered I can’t eat because of cross-contamination.”
Meeks also expressed concern for students attempting to lose weight or establish a more balanced diet.
“Without knowing the serving sizes or nutritional content, it is nearly impossible to keep track of what you’re putting in your body,” said Meeks. “You can’t track that if you don’t know what the food is or how many calories it has; it’s not friendly for losing weight.”
SGA Senate Chair and Food and Auxiliary Committee member Anna Fiske often hears feedback about the Marketplace, the Haven and Create. Fiske spoke to the role of SGA in Food Services.
“We bring forward student complaints about the Food Services,” Fiske said, explaining that specific criticisms are what drive improvements.
According to Fiske, Food Services has made changes and improvements to accommodate students’ wants and needs based off of past student suggestions.
“There are more vegan options in the Marketplace, and there are more vegetarian options now,” she provided as examples.
Assistant Dining Services Director Christy Nelson explained that Food Services openly welcomes feedback and suggestions.
“We have chat-back and comment cards so students can speak up on items they may want or need, and we take those very seriously,” Nelson stated. “We do what we can to ensure those needs are met. The chef is always available to communicate with students who may have special dietary needs that we may not be aware of.”
To Nelson, ensuring campus-wide enjoyment of meals is a top priority.
“Student satisfaction and creating excitement is very important to us,” Nelson said, which she believes is particularly demonstrated through the “student choice” located in the Haven.
“We have student choice which changes each semester,” said Nelson. “Students can vote on what they would like to have for the student selected dining location.
Additionally, Blake Milakis meets with SGA each month to hear the students’ needs.”
Blake Milakis is the director of Food Services, and, similar to Nelson, he takes student feedback seriously.
“I personally meet with SGA members to discuss any feedback received or needs that the student body may be looking for in the future,” Milakis said. “I am always speaking with students, and I encourage them to stop by my office whenever they may have any type of feedback or recommendation. Through all of this, we plan for future long-term items.”
Milakis said that Food Services meets students’ needs through their “menus of change.”
“Each semester, a new menu rotation is unfolded in the Marketplace,” explained Milakis. “We keep our menu changing and evolving. We have developed constant dining in the Marketplace over the past few years that ensures no matter what a student’s schedule may be, we are always open in the Marketplace.”
In order to cater to students who are dieting or have special dietary needs, Food Services posts nutritional information on each menu item on their website.
“We always strive for high- quality menu offerings in all locations. We have proper procedures in place for preparing dietary restriction requests. We publish nutritional information at all stations for all menu items as well as display these on our website, and we have an abundance of healthy options in the Marketplace including our wonderful and fresh salad bar,” said Milakis.
As he looks at the road that lies ahead, Milakis is optimistic, welcoming a bright future for Food Services.
“Knowing there are always opportunities to improve, AU’s Food Services will look into these areas and provide necessary changes to ensure student satisfaction,” he said.