On-campus food offerings under-appreciated by student body
"Ugh, servery food is disgusting today." "I'm so tired of eating in the servery." "I just can't eat this anymore, let's go off campus." These comments about our on-campus dining, among many others, are much too frequently overheard at Rice, whether it is lunch time on Saturday or at dinner on Tuesday. Many students, myself included, often voice their dissatisfaction with what Rice Dining has to offer in the serveries.
While I am certainly no exception and often express my complaints or servery fatigue, I have found it is also important to take a step back and look at our on-campus life with some perspective. We all may have our qualms about the food we eat on campus, but we might be going slightly overboard with our complaints. Rice Dining, while by no means perfect, does a much better job than we give them credit for.
Before going into a culinary critique of the Rice serveries, it is important that we all remember what Rice Dining is: an on-campus meal service that provides meals to students. Rice Dining is not a restaurant, a home kitchen or a fine-dining establishment. Rice Dining serves as the main source of food to our undergraduate population living on campus. Keeping this in mind, one realizes that there are many obstacles and challenges that come with feeding a large number of people. In serving thousands of students' meals everyday, resources, especially time and effort, are constrained. While most of us have never actually witnessed it, cooking for hundreds of students in each servery must be quite a challenge.
Keeping the perspective that our serveries are residential cafeterias for college students, we cannot expect to compare their output to a home-cooked meal or off-campus excursion and tend to be largely unfair in criticizing their performance based on this comparison. Instead, it might be more constructive to look at other schools and see how Rice compares. According to collegeprowler.com, Rice earns an "A" grade for its on-campus dining. Considering many other top-tier schools also receive similar grades, Rice fares very well on this scale.
Even more impressive, though, is how Rice compares on cost. While the following is not an exhaustive sample by any means, Rice had the lowest average meal plan cost, $3,870, compared to schools such as Georgetown ($4,468), Washington University in St. Louis ($4,536), Vanderbilt ($4,530), Stanford ($5,176) and Yale ($5,200), according to collegeprowler.com. Our meal plan might not feel inexpensive, but it is important to keep a perspective related to other schools. Considering our grade ranks high and our cost low, we may have it better than we think.
This being said, there are still plenty of times when the food just does not hit the spot. In this case, it might be worth taking the time to take advantage of some of the different campus dining resources available. We have six different places to eat on campus. While most students tend to remain in their colleges for meals, there is always the possibility of venturing to another servery with the hopes of having a better meal. One tool that makes finding a preferred meal is the online menu available on the Housing and Dining website (food.rice.edu). This practical feature can go a long way in helping students obtain better meals. Sure, it involves pulling up a Web page, but the option is available and can help students find an alternative to their particular servery. If there's nothing appealing whatsoever, there is always the opportunity to take advantage of tetra points and splurge on a meal at Brochstein, Droubi's at Sammy's, or wait for the Hoot to open.
Another element of Rice Dining that students often overlook is the servery staff and chefs. While most of us know which chef works at our college and recognize the staff, we rarely take the time to interact with them. These members of the Rice community can also play an important role in providing better dining options. In my experience, they have frequently been very responsive to suggestions and requests for items. Requests for items such as soy milk, organic milk, salad bar items and others have been implemented and have remained over time. Chefs and staff frequently read requests and comments made by students on "food boards" and try to satisfy them. Senior operations managers in particular can be a helpful resource in trying to improve dining. They are accommodating and are ready to help make the dining experience more enjoyable for students. In short, the servery staff, managers and chefs try to create a dining experience that caters to students' demands, within reason.
While there remains room for improvement in certain elements of our dining experience, we enjoy a better experience than we may realize. We tend to focus on the negative experiences, but there are also plenty of positive ones. Carving stations, freshly cooked pasta, weekend omelettes and Mexican-food night have all left us with full and satisfied stomachs. Before we jump to cafeteria criticism, let us try to help improve the status quo rather than merely complain about it.
Christoph Meyer is a Hanszen College senior.
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