In its first meeting of the semester on Tuesday, Oct. 22, the newly established Dining Commission of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Student Senate set out with a single goal on its plate: to serve up improvements to the wildcat dining experience.
Gathering in the Lamprey Room a floor below the hustle-and-bustle of Holloway Commons (HoCo) in the Memorial Union Building, nearly 30 attendees – including Senate members, student constituents and UNH dining staff – spent an hour’s time, specifically from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., reviewing recent changes made to the three dining halls, Union Court and specialty locales like Wildcatessen, as well as hashing out suggestions to address emerging or long-standing concerns about student meal plans and offerings.
All the while, attendees were treated to fresh, savory lunch items such as “Grilled Vegetables with an Organic Avocado Lime Hummus, Lettuce and Tomato;” and a sandwich highlighted by “Grilled Marinated Chicken Breast” and an assortment of roasted and/or grilled vegetables. Sides included Cape Cod Kettle Chips, “Cream of Leek with Wild Mushroom Soup,” and an assortment of desserts such as Magic Bars and brownies. Iced water and iced tea were offered as drinks, accompanied by university-themed napkins and silverware.
Director of Hospitality Services Bill McNamara led much of the meeting, which mostly consisted of students fielding questions and personal experiences related to their times at the dining halls toward McNamara and dining staff, who then reflected on whether the changes being made or left undone are leaving positive impacts on their undergraduate clients.
“For us here, we want to be able to meet…to make sure that we’re receiving feedback from those who use our services to really help us gauge what our level is, what people are looking for, and help us better serve the student population,” he said.
That feedback came about thanks in part to a study conducted last academic year with the help of an outside “consultant.” McNamara said the “consultant” met with “a lot of different groups of people” to ask them for what want to see in a dining hall. When the subject turned to “HoCo” – the affectionate nickname for Holloway Commons – for instance, many respondents called for more appearances of popular stations like the “smash burger” and “burrito bar” exhibits.
On top of additions, however, the study also showed McNamara a growing need for alterations, ways to make UNH’s largest dining hall more adaptable to changing times and tastes.
“Although HoCo was built in 2003, it’s had a lot of wear-and-tear; and what we’re finding is students are looking for some different services,” he told attendees. “So, one of the things that we know people want, they want that fresh, ‘made-to-order’ [and] more customizable type of food – which is what you get at the burrito bar, which is what you get at the ‘smash burger’ station – and they’re not exactly designed for you to be able to come through and pick-and-choose…so I think we have to look at redesigning HoCo and doing some remodeling in there.”
Beyond HoCo, the commission also discussed efforts to expand UNH’s “late night” offerings beyond Philbrook Dining Hall, whose high first-year student attendance currently makes it a popular late-night eatery, McNamara said. He added that UNH Dining hopes to go beyond food by offering late night “activities” and “programs” for nearby dorms, while Health and Wellness Council Chair Alyssa Dean of Student Senate suggested a partnership with the library to offer late-night snacks and programs for students utilizing the space for “all-nighter” study sessions.
Other topics included improvements toward cleanliness in Union Court kitchens and students advocating for the return of hot sandwiches and sample plates of specialty foods at Stillings Dining Hall.
All Dining Commission meetings are free and open to the public.