Interim General Manager of Dining Services J. Mark Daniels has come in with a focus in mind: fixing the relationship with students.
“My main goal is to restore trust between the student body and Dining Services,” Daniels said.
The issues between students and Dining Services came to a head at the end of last term, as the Student Senate Dining Services committee prepared a report on issues with the treatment of workers in the department. Daniels was brought in by Bon Apptit to help oversee the transition from former Dining Services Manager Diane Welker.
Mark assumed the role of Interim GM along with Ken Dixon back in late March when Diane Welker stepped down as GM. Since then, Daniels has been hard at work to change Dining Services, starting with the dining staff.
“They are a great resource. They know more about this place than anyone,” Daniels said.
Daniels added that he and Dixon want to build a culture where staff are able to openly communicate with management about ideas and concerns.
“Listening to staff is a great way to build morale and high morale equates to better service and food,” Daniels said.
Besides staff, Daniels has been meeting with students on campus mainly through what he calls “organic actions” Ð simple interactions with students out on campus. Recently, Daniels has been meeting with student organizations such as Student Senate.
During his presentation to Student Senate, Daniels emphasized that the work he was doing was not difficult to implement. Students are free to reach out to him with concerns, and he said during the meeting that the best ideas for changes they have already done, like checking into prices at the C-store, have come from students.
Besides improving morale among staff and students, Daniels has been hard at work improving the quality of food.
“We want to offer good strong offerings every night that the majority of people like,” Daniels said.
One such way Daniels has improved the quality of food is through the increased variety and quality of vegetarian options. For Daniels, this takes him back to his previous place of employment, Andrews University in Michigan, which had an entirely vegan menu.
“Part of our culture is to make [vegetarian] options plentiful and appealing,” Daniels said.
Students and staff have noticed positive changes in Dining Services.
“We’ve been making changes that have been seen positively by students and staff,” Senior Vice President of Finance Keith Archer said.
For Student Senate Dining Services Chair and junior Leonard Monterey, the biggest impact he has seen is not in the food in the cafeteria, but in the staff themselves.
“When you enter the cafeteria, you see smiling caf workers,” Monterey said.
He attributes this to Daniels, whom Monterey thinks is doing a great job.
“He has given me hope in knowing that the future of Dining Services at Knox College will improve,” Monterey said. “I implore every student who wants to see change to meet with Mark. He will make himself available and listen to your concerns.”
Monterey hopes that the next Dining Services General Manager will be a lot like Daniels: thick-skinned, open to communication, and having a can-do attitude.