According to Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer, his department was serving an average of 1,300 meals per day when he started three years ago. Now the average is 1,900, which is a 46 percent increase.
One might conclude as Joey Firman, ‘10, and other upperclassmen have, that the increase is a function of increased class sizes. However, Mayer points out that the number of meal plans has increased only modestly. He figures that the increase in traffic is only 10 percent due to more students. Rather, the much more significant factor is that a greater proportion of those meal plans are being used.
Mayer has two reasons for the increase in dining services popularity. Unsurprisingly, the food is reason number one.
“Everyone says the food is better,” he said. Variety has improved as well. Roughly 90 dishes have been added to the menu in the last three years. The menu has become so large that the cooking staff is asking that dishes be removed before new ones are added.
Mayer would love to remove numerous dishes, mostly because they are nutritionally deficient. But, he said, he would never stop making something that the “customers” like to eat.
Instead, he takes a different route.
“I try to make some feel guilty: ‘you better watch out, pretty soon they’re going to call you fat kid,’ and I get a laugh. Then they go to the salad bar and have carrots, which they’ve never done before,” Mayer said.
Mayer thinks his visibility and charisma are the other reasons for the increased use of meal plans.
Students mostly corroborated Mayer’s assessment of the improved quality of the food.
Freshman Tyler Buddell said about the cafeteria, “I like it. It provides a lot of options, especially, I hear, vegetarian. As far as schools go, the caf’s got one of the best varieties of vegetarian food. I personally like their choice in food. And there’s always the ‘fat cave’ in case you need a little something else.”
Evaluations of variety, on the other hand, were more scattered, and somewhat less favorable.
“Some of dishes I thought were really good, but the fact that there are potatoes every single day gets kind of tiresome,” freshman Caitlin Stone said.
One student commented on the staff, which was Mayer’s secondary reason for the increase in dining service’s popularity.
“The atmosphere is great—the staff is always in a good mood,” Buddell said. Comment cards also frequently express adoration for Mayer.
It might have been less obvious that the increased traffic is an indicator of customer satisfaction. However, the real surprise was that students not only do not mind the crowd, they enjoy it.
“It’s nice. It’s a really social atmosphere,” freshman Katie Kline said.
“It’s a pretty social environment, and I love being in the caf. I either go to the caf to eat and hang out, or eat and procrastinate,” Stone said.
Others framed it as a place to meet friends.
“The caf’s a little crowded, but it’s not too bad–there’s friends here,” sophomore John Bergholz said.