Parkhurst Dining and the Student Senate Dining Committee co-hosted their first dining forum on Nov. 3. In addition to the announcement of the forum, it was reported that a similar meeting would occur the first Wednesday of every month.
“We [the Dining Committee] started receiving a lot of complaints at the beginning of the year and we spoke with one of our advisors on Student Senate and we thought that the smartest thing to do was to have a forum,” said Georgia Martin, chair of the Dining Committee, until Nov. 7 when she resigned. “With social media being a present aspect in everyone’s life in college, I think we look at Founders Reviews more than we look at the actual Valpo dining page. So we wanted a space where students felt like they were actually being heard instead of just writing a comment card. It’s not just about feeling heard, it’s about an action being taken by this. So the value of it is we want the students to feel like what they’re saying is important to us.”
In addition to four representatives from Parkhurst Dining, a total of ten students attended the meeting. Lee Keener, the Senior General Manager of University Dining Services opened the discussion.
“A lot of things we’ve been hearing that occur time and time again on comments and social media is quality, quantity, variety, temperature and the menu not matching what we posted,” said Keener. “We want to tell you that our best tool for success is getting usable, specific feedback. If you make us guess, we’re going to get it wrong.”
Keener encouraged students to include specifics and details when submitting commentary to Parkhurst. Information regarding whether the food was good or bad, what made it this way (crust, cooking process, etc.) and any other suggestions for improvement. This feedback will ultimately help to build the menu Dining Services references.
“Comment cards, email, one on one conversations, sending something to the dining email, grabbing one of our cards from the communications station and emailing one of us. Stopping into the office with the comment cards and the virtual comment cards are the two single biggest, most impactful sources of communication for us. These comments have implemented a lot of things you’re seeing already,” Keener said. “We’re going to continue to listen and learn and introduce new things as we hear what it is that you have to say.”
As a result of comment cards received, microwave ovens and more condiments have been added to Founders. Additionally, the salad bar and pizza station were reopened for weekend service.
A freshman was the first to speak on behalf of the students. The student primarily discussed issues regarding hours of service and dissatisfaction with food stock.
“It seems like you’re treating it almost like it’s a commuter campus and there aren’t students living here,” the student said. “We feel like there’s less options on the weekends, there’s less hours. If you go to a Saturday night basketball game, you can’t even get out of the game in time to go to dinner. We felt like the limited hours are limiting the time we can get our food, especially on the weekends.”
Keener revealed that Dining Services set their hours of operation based on the traffic they would see at different times, which is why they are currently open from 7:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. for weekdays and 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. on weekends.
Another resounding concern centered around allergies. Students had noticed the removal of walnuts near the oatmeal station, which called into question the procedures surrounding allergies and specific dietary requirements.
“We’re not going to ban shellfish, we’re not going to outlaw nuts, which I’ve had done in other facilities I’ve been in. We’re not going to do that here, but we are going to try and figure out ways to make them safe for you,” Keener said.
While walnuts have been removed, students pointed out seemingly inconsistent procedures for handling peanut allergies.
A student in attendance at the forum asked, “How is that any different than having the peanut butter open by the bread station?”
Keener commented that the bread station uses only four utensils, which makes it easier for staff to replace them every half hour with a clean set.
Similarly, another student questioned the quality standards for the product Parkhurst serves. She gave examples about meat and poultry quality, along with the condition of greens and vegetables being served.
“Most of our products only last about a day to a day and a half in our facility. Everything rotates out fairly fast,” said Charlie Weaver, executive chef.
Items also have specific labels that provide a date when the food must be thrown out. Parkhurst has a safety and security team, as well as a supply management team that help to ensure quality.
Those that encounter foods that aren’t quality or look to be unsafe for consumption should immediately find an employee with a gold name tag, typically in the dining office located next to Founders.
“That’s the problem is it [an incident regarding mold] wasn’t taken to Parkhurst in the beginning. Students need to realize that if they have moldy bread or anything that’s not right, they need to take it straight to Parkhurst. It’s really hard to backtrack and find out what pile that came from,” Martin said. “Immediate action is going to take place, we’re more just concerned about the student’s safety because we know that we have a lot of allergies on campus.”
A sophomore at the dining forum requested Parkhurst consider serving more culturally diverse foods. She explained that it would make her, and other students of color, feel more at home with their Valpo experience. Her request was met with a positive response.
“You guys aren’t at home and you don’t have your family refrigerator from home. We want you to look at Founders as your family refrigerator. We truly do care,” Woodke said.
Resulting from another issue a student brought to the attention of the Parkhurst team, Dining Services agreed to consider restructuring part of their training program. Concerns over sensitivity were also expressed based on remarks brought to light by students in which dining staff commented on students’ body image.
Parkhurst revealed at the forum that they are implementing a new campaign after Thanksgiving, which is based on the “see something, say something” method, where if a student sees something that has the potential for danger, it’s their responsibility to say something. The campaign includes social media posts and exterior initiatives.
“We have some table tents and then we have these clings that go on the tables so that way they can stay there and remind you,” Keener said.
Students can submit comment cards outside of Founders, via direct messaging on Instagram to @valpodining and through scanning a QR code. Concerns can also be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Students need to realize we’re not a Student Senate for nothing, we don’t have these committees for nothing. Our sole purpose in the dining committee is to take action,” Martin said.