Following last fall semester, Creative Dining — in cooperation with Taylor Student Organization (TSO) — revamped its services’ variety and hours.
Senior Sarah Mangan, student body president, said TSO’s conversations addressing the improvement of Hodson Dining Commons (DC) and LaRita Boren Campus Center (Stu) began last September.
TSO started by asking for the insight of students in a public relations and campaign class because they had spoken with Nathaniel Malone, director of dining services, as part of an assignment. Mangan and the executive cabinet of TSO then met with President Michael Lindsay and Stephen Olson, vice president for finance, in November.
This semester-long process culminated in a meeting with Malone and TSO beginning to draft a letter to the student body about changes coming at the DC and Stu. When the final week of J-term arrived, Mangan reconvened with Malone to see what changes they had implemented and sent out the letter to Taylor students on Feb. 3.
“We’re excited to see improvements not only this spring, but also in future years through improving communication and setting proper channels and expectations between Dining Commons and the students,” Mangan said.
Among the many challenges of COVID-19, Malone said Creative Dining is only operating with 70% of its normal staff. Despite this disadvantage, they have committed to adjustments in both the DC and Stu, including increased variety in meal options, the most popular suggestion from TSO and students. Malone said that the DC especially was suffering from “menu fatigue” from the same food being served.
Malone first worked as the DC’s executive chef in 2017 and became Director of Dining Services in March 2021. He recalled the DC and Stu running at full force before the pandemic struck, and desires to return to that high quality service.
Beginning this spring, the DC will have a menu that operates on a 5-week cycle, where students and faculty will not see repeated dishes until week six when it restarts. The Kitchen Table and The Zone, two of the seven meal stations, have been specifically targeted in this cycle, now having a full variation in offerings between lunch and dinner.
Additionally, many positive J-term reactions by students has kept an all-day toast bar running, located beside Taquería and the cereal bar, which includes a variety of toasts, jams, butters and fresh berries.
Sophomore Max Embree said he likes the toast bar for its convenience and options such as butter for pancakes and blueberries to put on top of yogurt.
“I really like a good piece of toast in the morning,” Embree said. “I’m glad it’s been moved to this new location.”
Though first introduced by Malone in 2019, FD MealPlanner, a free phone application that provides users access to daily menus, has been given a greater emphasis through the latest student body announcement. The DC menus are updated in advance to include two weeks of upcoming breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Students and faculty can check sides and entrees for allergen information and build their own meal virtually to view nutritional facts on their selected foods prior to eating.
“It’s been a great addition,” Malone said. “It’s just one part of the production software that we use that helps us control our costs and give out information. When we create a menu, it’s done through this system.”
On the Stu’s side of things, the decreased staff size has equally impacted its operations. However, Malone said examining sales data and understanding Chick-Fil-A makes up 60% of the Stu’s intake allowed them to strategically manage the rest of food offerings.
Dashi is now open Tuesdays and Thursdays for dinner until 10 p.m. and Pie Co. closes at 2:30 p.m. on those same two days. Fresh still closes at 2:30 p.m. daily, as it did in the fall, but to-go salads are provided in the cooler adjacent to Pie Co. all day. Grilled nuggets are now available at Chick-Fil-A with a meal swipe and fruit cups can be purchased with Dining Dollars for $1.44, down from the previous $3.55.
Additionally, Mangan and TSO requested more side options in the Stu be available besides the existing fries from Chick-Fil-A and other less healthy alternatives. New sides that have been implemented so far include pita and hummus, side salads and Greek yogurt.
If students would like Chick-Fil-A wraps to return, more student workers are needed to prep them, Mangan said.
Because of the national worker shortage, Creative Dining is hiring with multiple job openings in the DC and the Stu. Pay starts at $10/hour, workers receive free meals and flexible hours exist especially for students. To apply or learn more information, contact Jennifer Evans, assistant director of dining services, at email@example.com.
Follow Taylor University Dining Services on Instagram @taylorudining to stay up to date on their latest events.