Dining Services re-launch not without hiccups

Students pleased with changes, but say there is still work to be done

By Ariane Madden

Photos by Ariane Madden

SFU Dining Services marked a new era with the launch of the renovated MacKenzie Cafe and Residence Dining Hall cafeteria last week. The bricks and mortar renovations also signified a complete overhaul to campus dining management and the residence-dining plan. The changes to dining services at SFU came after years of dissatisfaction, which prompted months of consultations from SFU Ancillary Services.

The changes, which were originally announced in June, include a 24/7 all-you-can-eat meal plan for residence students and the hiring of a new manager to oversee all of the university-owned food operations. The changes also saw the launch of a new SFU Dining Services Facebook page and Twitter feed. These social media outlets encourage members of the campus community to submit feedback on food services in real-time, and run regular contest giveaways.

Dorothy Yip, SFU’s new food services general manager, invites members of the campus community to maintain an open dialogue with SFU and the food service providers: “We are on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the ‘Dine on Campus’ website, and welcome any feedback students may have- be they bad or good. We can only improve on the bad and make the good the best [through your feedback].”

All of this follows the renewal of the Chartwells dining contract and months of consultations and surveys surrounding campus food options.

The introduction of Food Truck Thursdays in the courtyard between Saywell Hall and the A.Q. have also helped to expand the overall food offerings on campus, with a Starbucks Coffee slated to open next year.

The university will also strive to maintain its recent reputation as a hub for sustainability and social awareness by continuing the Go Green Container Exchange program at most dining locations, expanding waste diversion programs such as composting, and introducing Fair Trade options to vending machines and campus food locations.

Reactions from students in the first week were hesitant, but optimistic. Christine and Karen Tulloch, both fourth-year students at the Burnaby campus, frequent Mackenzie Cafe between classes in the English and Kinesiology departments respectively.

They applauded the modern decor changes and more functional seating and couches installed in the newly renovated Cafe located at the West wing of the AQ.  However, they didn’t believe that pricing had changed significantly from that of previous years. Christine described the food at the old Mackenzie Cafe as “greasy” and was excited by the new changes and expanded menus. Karen saw the changes at the cafe as one of many changes happening at the university in recent months.

“I’ve seen a lot of improvements take place this past year including the renovations of Maggie Benston Centre and the A.Q. bathrooms . . . its really nice to see that [the university] cares about it and cares about making it a better experience. They’ve really invested a lot of money into it and it definitely seems better than before.”

However, students at the residence dining hall expressed concerns and frustrations with some of the changes that have meant the inability to take most meals to class and increased costs for cross-campus dining as the meal plan no longer applies at dining locations other than the residence dining hall.

Martin Palibroda, a cross-country athlete expressed mixed feelings on the new dining services. “I’m not starving this year with the all you can eat meal plan!.But there hasn’t been enough fruit or groceries in the My Pantry section, and I miss the selection that the grill had before.”

Other residents expressed disappointment that the Go Green container program can no longer be used at the Residence Dining Hall, and that typical grab-and-go items such as muffins and coffee cannot leave the dining hall premises under the new system.

“The Go Green container program will be launched [at cross-campus locations but] we are looking into the possibility of implementing another system for the Residence Dining Hall as the current Go Green Program will not be viable there [with the new program].” Says Yip, highlighting that the university is committed to sustainability through waste diversion and the introduction of compostable take out containers.

Despite the hiccups, the residents also recognised the newness of the system and that some equipment and practices have not yet been installed or implemented.

“This is definitely better quality than before so far,” said V.K. Banerjee, a second-year student who has been on the meal plan for both years in residence. “There seems to be better variety and it’s pretty good value for the money. But I emphasise the ‘so far.’ ”

Johnny Aether, a third-year biochemistry major has lived in residence and struggled with maintaining a vegetarian diet under the old meal plan and dining menus.

“It was horrible. [The old dining locations] practically had no vegetarian options, and when you’d ask for it, their answer was to give you tofu on a plate. It’s a lot cheaper now and there’s money to be saved. But I think the new system needs to relax a bit. It’s frustrating that when I’m late for class or just on the run I can’t grab something to go, and the staff seem stressed out by the new system, too. I really think they just need to relax.”

But with more changes set to take place in the coming months, students and staff will have to wait before they pass full judgement on the expanded and overhauled services. Food options are slated to be introduced to the newly renovated Discovery I facility which houses Fraser International College, and other food vendors in the A.Q. are expected to be announced in the coming months.

Dorothy Yip reiterates the need to continue to provide feedback as the changes take place over the coming months and years.

“We believe the changes we have already implemented reflect the students and SFU dining needs [after months of consultations]. However, we will not sit on our laurels, but continue to implement changes to ensure we meet everyone’s needs.”

More information on the newly overhauled dining services can be found by visiting MacKenzie Cafe, the Residence Dining Hall or the SFU Dine On Campus website.