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Friday, August 19, 2016

SU Dining Services Provides 'Refreshed' Experience

Commons Improvements SALISBURY, MD---New menus, faster and more convenient service, opportunities to provide immediate feedback, and even job possibilities—all contribute to a refreshed campus dining experience for students coming this fall, according to Salisbury University Dining Services.

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“We want to take the dining experience at SU to a new level and provide a caliber of service that students can enjoy, even brag about,” said Marvin Pyles, interim vice president of administration and finance. “Eating here should be nutritional, tasty, easy, social and fun, with pleasant surprises that have you coming back for more. That is our goal.”

Expanded Options

At the Commons, students will find two new dining options in the Marketplace this fall. Burrito, similar to its predecessor, Fiesta Express, offers Tex-Mex favorites. However, main ingredient additions, including steak, chicken, shrimp and meatless options will be featured, a quality improvement over solely ground beef offered at the former station.

Diners will be able to choose from salads, burritos or bowls in a concept UDS Director Owen Rosten compared to the popular eatery Chipotle. The adjacent healthy and gluten-free kiosk Plato’s Plate will continue to feature grilled chicken breast at every meal and fish on many days.

Nearby, an all-day breakfast themed station, EggCetera, has replaced the former Gold ’n’ Crispy. The new kiosk will offer not only personalized omelets, but pancakes and waffles with fun toppings such as seasonal fruit and chocolate chips.

That doesn’t mean the French fries and other fried foods once offered at Gold ’n’ Crispy will be going away. They will continue at existing dining stations such as Grillers alongside the burgers, hot dogs and other entrees they are meant to accompany. The change was made partially to accommodate the elimination of trays from the dining hall.

“Now that we have gone trayless, we want things to be easier for students and to cut down on cueing up in more than one line for a single meal,” said Rosten. Serving fries at the same station as hamburgers just made sense.

Physical Upgrades

The Commons will be stocked with higher capacity and more shatter-resistant plates and larger cups to further accommodate the change. And those plates will weigh approximately one-third of those previously used.

Another change is the location of Commons silverware stations.  They are now conveniently located closer to seating areas. Changing the placement of the silverware pickup area will allow diners to take only what they need, further speeding service and saving on the amount of water and chemicals used in dishwashing.

New heat lamps installed at optimal positions will keep food hotter and easier to see from the serving lines, and new breath guards (“sneeze guards” to some) will allow some stations to be converted into self-service during non-peak dining hours. Expanded drink stations (from eight taps per unit to 12 and double the previous number of ice dispensers) also should help move diners through beverage lines faster. And digital menu boards will make it easier to list — and read — daily specials.

Another pleasant addition, new lightweight metal chairs in the Rotunda feature the SU logo precision-cut into their backs.

Planning for the Future

Some changes were necessary to accommodate more students using the dining hall this year and in the future, Rosten said. Others were inspired by potential health concerns. For instance, all menus in the Commons will be ‘nut-free’ beginning this semester. The only exception will be peanut butter, available in sealed, single-serve containers.

Other things will remain the same. For instance, the UDS herb garden, on the building’s roof, continues to provide fresh ingredients for cooking. And Meatless Mondays, championed by students in SU’s Environmental Studies Department, will continue for lunch and dinner in The Bistro.

“Vegetarians can be completely comfortable that nothing in there has touched a meat item on Mondays,” Rosten said. (UDS’ commitment to such practices recently earned SU the highest ranking in the University System of Maryland on PETA2’s 2016 Vegan Report Card.)

Beyond the Commons

SU community members will see changes at other campus dining facilities this fall, as well. The former Fulton Café in Fulton Hall has transitioned into an all-vending venue. (Beverage machines there and throughout campus sell Pepsi products exclusively as part of a new “sole pour” agreement.) The Gull’s Nest in the Guerrieri University Center also is undergoing renovations. A Chick-fil-A restaurant is scheduled to open there late fall.

That does not mean Gull’s Nest favorites such the L. Foxwell (a steak tortilla wrap named in honor of SU alumnus and current Maryland Comptroller’s Office Chief of Staff Len Foxwell) are disappearing, however. They are becoming part of the menu at Hungry Minds Express, the café inside SU’s new Patricia R. Guerrieri Academic Commons (GAC).

Influenced by convenience store technology and design, Hungry Minds offers fresh-made grilled, salad, subs, panini and other choices utilizing touch-screen ordering. Students will also find gluten-free and healthier options, an expanded variety of pre-packaged snacks, and a limited selection of health and beauty products. Of particular note is Dr. Janet’s South of the Border Burger, a Tex-Mex-inspired sandwich named in honor of SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach. A Latin American literature and Spanish language scholar, she earned her Ph.D. from El Colegio de México.

Much of the food served at Hungry Minds is expected to be “to go.” Rosten worked with environmental studies students, who selected environmentally friendly packaging, unique to the GAC.

“Students are part of the process, and they are driving the future of Dining Services,” said Pyles.
Joining Hungry Minds in the GAC is Rise Up Coffee Roasters, the first branded concept restaurant to partner directly with the University. Founded in 2005 by SU alumni Timothy Cureton and Noah Kegley, the popular chain focuses on fair trade and organic coffees.

Student Satisfaction

While many Dining Services changes on campus are immediately noticeable, others are taking place behind the scenes. Half of SU’s student dining plans are offering more Dining Dollars — good for food purchases across campus — and, unlike past years, Dining Dollars may now be carried over between the fall and spring semesters, provided students select a spring meal plan. (Previously, these unused dollars were forfeited at the end of each semester.) For those interested in adding more Dining Dollars to their plans, promotions will be offered at certain times of the year, Rosten said.

For the first time, students are not limited to using their meal plans at the Commons within set hours of the day. For instance, in past years, only one meal could be used during a breakfast, lunch or dinner meal period.  Now, students can use their meals at any time without restriction.  “We want students to take full advantage of their plans; fewer missed meals enhances the value of a meal plan," said Sommer Dunlevy, UDS marketing specialist.

Student feedback also is important to UDS. For that reason, SU has subscribed to a “txt and tell” real-time feedback system from “touchwork.”  Diners are able to send a text rating the quality of food, service and overall dining experience, and make suggestions on the spot without ever leaving, and feedback/responses from UDS management displayed prominently on a digital monitor in the Rotunda.

“We want to get student feedback that is timely and actionable,” said Rosten, adding that, to his knowledge, SU is the smallest campus in the U.S. using this technology.

He hopes these changes will benefit students in another way, as well: employment. In the past year, UDS has more than doubled its number of student workers. Rosten said he hopes that number will continue to grow.

“The top 10 Princeton Review rated dining programs in the nation all have one thing in common: student employees,” he said. “That’s where we’d like to be.”

For more information call 410-543-6105 or visit the SU Dining Services website at       

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