Last semester many students left campus disgruntled and discouraged by the service they had received at the dining halls around campus. After what students describe as years of slipping service few students were not hopeful for change.
However, as students returned to campus this week, they were greeted to new posters and banners around campus advertising dining hall reform. The tag line: We hear you, we care. This reform was a direct result of Criminal justice major, Andrew Finerty’s, petition that circulated last semester and took aim at the quality of food and service in the dining halls.
Students are pleased to see the improvements that were made over break. These changes included condiments at every table, $20,000 of new dinnerware, ingredient and nutritional facts for every meal made available through binders located at each counter, further training for staff, and if a problem does arise managers are now easily identifiable by blue guest services hats. Additionally, dining halls are now committed to keeping stations stocked 15 minutes after doors close and to provide a variety of food options including adequate options for students with dietary restrictions.
Umass Lowell Dining Services plans to make more changes as the semester progresses. Which include the creation of QR codes for every meal that will enable students to access ingredients and nutritional information from their phone quickly. The Qr codes are tentatively set to launch in about a month. Other improvements include a keeping a monthly inventory of dining wear (and subsequent reordering to keep stock up), more training for workers, and hiring more staff.
This week Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney and Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs and Engagement, Larry Seigel, will meet with executives from Aramark to discuss the findings of an outside Food specialist who spent last week observing the dining halls trying to pinpoint what other changes are needed.
Aaron Bennos, Director of Operations for University Dining, explained that the most helpful thing students can do to ensure an immediate response to issues is to keep Dining Services informed as problems arise. Students can do so by approaching the managers at the time of the issue, by visiting the new weekly “We Hear You, We Care” tables Hosted by managers, or by accessing their online voice of the customer tool (www.yourdiningvoice.com) which sends real-time updates to the mangers. Students can also submit comments to UMass Lowell’s dining email and/or social media pages.
Response time will vary depending on the method of communication, but Bennos says students can expect to hear back within 24 hours. Bennos urges students not to wait to address an issue saying, “When we don’t hear about something until days later, it’s harder to address and fix the situation. Immediate feedback helps to correct an issue and lessen the chance of others having similar experiences.”
Many students voiced concerns that these changes are temporary and will not last; to help ensure that this is not the case Umass Lowell has begun creating five student lead dinning committees. Each dining hall will have its own committee comprised of the students who live in the buildings located near the dining hall.
“We want the people who are the consumers at that place to be on the committee,” Said Seigel explaining that they hope to have three to four residents from each building or -in the case of the I.C.C- a student from each floor. Nothing is set in stone, but Seigel hopes to reach out to the Student Government Association and the Residence Hall Association for volunteers. Additionally, Seigel notes that they’d like for there be one or two Resident Assistants to act as liaisons in keeping the R.As informed as a whole.
Plans also include reaching out to the Athletic Department and Honors council about student volunteers for the Hawks Nest committee at USuites, where athletes often take advantage of late-night dining, and many honors students are housed.
These four committees will funnel into a larger steering committee, the Student Dining Service Advisory Committee, that will address issues found across all 4 dining halls. Seigel explains this the two-pronged approach will allow for changes for each individual dining hall and allow them to assess what changes need to be made across campus. These Committees shall also be responsible for creating a yearly food service survey.
It is not yet determined how often these committees will meet, but Seigel estimates monthly if not more. The conversations will be driven by the students. Representatives from the dining halls, Residence Life, and Student Affairs will be present to discuss the issues as they arise, but their primary role will be to listen. These representatives will include managers and chefs from each dining hall, Resident Directors- who often hear about the issues first-, as well as Bennos and Seigel themselves. James Kohl, the Dean of Student Affairs and Engagement is committed to participating in all five committees.
“I want the right people- who are in the position to do things- there,” said Seigel, acknowledging that the issues the petition brought forth were not new and it’s time for Dining services to listen. Since at the end of the day, everything done at UMass Lowell is for the students.