WCU Dining Services seeks student input

Sarah Caruso, Mike Doppke, and Greg Smith of WCU Dining Services. Photo by Ben Haines.

WCU Dining Services hosted an open forum to gather student feedback on Monday, March 18 at 7 p.m. in the A.K. Hinds University Center Multipurpose Room B.

Representing Dining Services at the event were Sarah Caruso, Marketing Coordinator; Mike Doppke, Senior Food Service Director; and Greg Smith, Assistant Food Service Director.

WCU Dining Services holds forums like this once per semester and they are typically low-key affairs with fewer than ten people attending. Nevertheless, the three students who turned out for Monday’s session were enthusiastic to speak with Dining Services representatives.

“We really feel like we’re part of the college community here,” said Smith. “The more students, staff and faculty are involved in what we do, the better off everyone is.”

Key topics addressed at Monday’s forum included hours of operation, healthy eating options and future prospects for Dining Services.

The students in attendance agreed that Einstein Bros. Bagels could be particularly frustrating with its hours, being open only from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and closed on weekends.

“We address our hours of operation at all of our locations twice a year,” Doppke said, writing down the students’ suggestions on a notepad. He clarified that weekend hours are influenced by the fact that a large number of WCU students leave campus every Friday and do not return until Sunday night, a trend that university officials would like to change.

On the subject of healthy eating, Smith explained that the Courtyard Dining Hall receives its menus from corporate headquarters in four-week cycles and the Dining Services staff has limited choices to make within that framework.

“We’re really making an effort to give the people who want to eat healthy a chance to eat a really good, healthy dinner,” Smith said, though he admitted that it ultimately comes down to personal student choice. “I can promise you that hamburgers outsell our vegetarian options 20 to 1.”

The flyer for Monday's forum.

Doppke cited the preset menus of national brands as an obstacle to providing more options at existing dining locations on campus. “We are working with Chik-Fil-A to try and expand their menu next year,” Doppke said. “I don’t want to talk about what they may be at this time because I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep.”

Caruso mentioned highlighting healthy eating options at various campus locations, referring to Dining Services’ Fresh & Healthy initiative.

“There are healthy options in those locations,” Caruso said. “We have tried to make it a little more obvious.”

Doppke stated that his long-term goal for Dining Services is to add more facilities on Central Drive, close to the Harrill, Central, Buchanan and Albright-Benton residence halls. At present, only the C3 Convenience Store located in the Brown Building is available to serve that region of the campus.

As WCU’s student population continues to grow every year, resident students congregate in the facilities at the center of campus to get their meals. This is why the Courtyard Dining Hall and UC Food Court are frequently packed with crowds, and Doppke would like to redistribute some of that traffic with new dining facilities in the upper campus area.

“Even if we got 500 people a day out of the dining hall, that would make a huge difference,” Doppke said. “I think when you do see a move to expand the services in the future, it will be a comprehensive plan.”

In addition to the upper part of campus, there is also the prospect of Dining Services expanding outward as the university develops more infrastructure in the surrounding area. WCU’s new Health and Human Sciences Building recently opened on Little Savannah Road, making it the furthest outlier from the main campus and bringing about a new CatTran shuttle service traffic pattern to transport students.

WCU’s 2020 Commission will present its preliminary report for future university development by December of this year, and Dining Services will see how budget and opportunity permit them to expand with the campus. “We want to be where the people are, no question,” Smith said.

WCU Dining Services will next host a free lunch session on Thursday, April 11 at 12:30 p.m. in the University Center. Students who attend will have the opportunity to speak with Dining Services representatives one-on-one and enjoy a free meal from the U.C.’s Papa John’s Pizza, Einstein Bros. Bagels or Chik-Fil-A outlets.

Later this year, Dining Services will take part in Stop Hunger Now, a global initiative dedicated to packaging meals to service people in need. A Stop Hunger Now drive was previously held on Oct. 1, 2011 by the WCU Wesley Foundation, the WCU Teaching Fellows and the WCU Center for Service Learning, with student volunteers packing over 36,000 meals in a span of five hours.

This will be the first time WCU Dining Services hosts a Stop Hunger Now drive, and it will likely take place in late April or early May, though it might be delayed until the fall semester in August. Anyone who would like to volunteer can contact Sarah Caruso by phone at 828-227-3778 or by email at caruso-sarah@aramark.com.