The Cafeteria’s Revenge

by Patrick M.

The Aardvark Dig complains about the dining hall a lot. As a counter to our dozens of articles rating entrées from good (yay, chicken strips!) to bad (meatloaf), I decided to ask Kelly Cowing about the suggestions Bon Appétit has for OES students.

We started off the interview generally, and I asked, first about pet peeves. Cowing had a list of opinions from the cafeteria staff written in notes on a small legal pad.

A universal irritant, for example, is when students don’t inform staff of a spill. Unreported spills aren’t only extra work, but are a safety hazard. “If someone goes down in that dining hall,” said Cowing, “it’s gonna hurt like heck”.

According to Cowing, another unhelpful behavior is complaining that a juice is out: “our focus is on moving people through the food lines, so running out of one type of juice or sunflower seeds in the salad line isn’t our biggest concern.”

Students often put liquids in the compost container instead of in black bins with the dishes, don’t scrape their dishes, or even steal them, taking them out of the dining hall and leaving them around campus. Environmental issues also matter: surprisingly enough, plastic wrappers aren’t compostable. Nor are metal forks (just saying).

Problems also come up with meals other than lunch. Often, students stay for dinner, but don’t sign their name on the digital sign in. Recently, someone inputted for their name “J J J J Your face”. That, Cowing is quick to point out, is stealing: not only from the cafeteria itself, but from people who actually have paid to eat dinner there.

Surprisingly, at least to an editor of a publication that complains almost pathologically about the dining hall food, one thing Cowing encourages is constructive criticism. She wishes students would complain more often, because “then we could change things.” It’s difficult to know what is going to be popular and what is not, and while Bon Appétit isn’t “in the business of overproducing [food]”, she still welcomes menu suggestions (besides the perennial sushi, steak, and lobster). “We can’t even do pizza; we’d need 240 pizzas for the whole school, but we can only cook 16 at a time.”

Overall, Cowing says, students at OES aren’t badly behaved. She particularly appreciates students putting chairs away, and volunteering in the kitchen. One “rockstar” example, Cowing says, is Sophia A. (just do what she does, kids).

The biggest issues with student behavior in the dining hall are those of efficiency and extra work created for the kitchen staff.

“Think about [the staff’s work] this way,” Cowing told me, “What if it was your mom doing it?”

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