The ins and outs of dining on campus

What you need to know but have not been told

Soren Frantz / Photo Editor

Dining on campus at Keene State College has had a rough start this semester with glitches, miscalculations and confusion from all sides.

“I’ve eaten the same food every single day, or not eaten at all. We’re ordering Door Dash a lot and have spent hundreds of dollars since getting here. It’s not good for our wallets,” said Atong Chang, a sophomore at the college.

A little over three weeks ago, the Keene State College campus started buzzing with activity for the first time since students were sent home in March. Although move-in days were spread throughout the week, August 30th was the first day the campus had all students.

Dining at Keene underwent changes over the summer, yet students said they were not aware of how dining would run this semester. The new app, Boost,app  allows students to order food from most locations on campus for pick up. Despite this, only early move-in students were informed that there was a new app and taught how to use it.

“I read about the app in the orientation pamphlet and someone told me that I could get cheese and bacon on my burger if I ordered it through the app. I thought it was awesome,” said first-yearreshman Sean Sweeney.

Jen Ferrell, Director of Campus Life Jen Ferrell at the college, even admitted that communication was minimal to students about the app was minimal. She expressed that she worried about over communicating to students and felt that their inboxes were too full with move-in information.

“I think we put a lot of hopes in orientation being able to do some of that, but that really gets at only first- year students. I think we absolutely could have done a bigger push about how that worked early on,” said Ferrell.

Minimal communication has not been the only issue with students dining on campus. Chartwells services all dining on campus, including Zorn Dining Commons, Lloyds, We Proudly Serve Starbucks, the Night Owl Cafe and the Hoot n’ Scoot. Bonnie Blanchard, Controller and Human Resources Manager at Chartwells, said that places were understaffed when they opened.

“When we reached out to our associates to confirm our reopening schedule, we had seven full time associates notify us that they would not be returning. Since opening, we have had four associates resign due to COVID related issues,” said Blanchard.

They are still understaffed and in the process of hiring. Background checks, COVID-19 testing, extra training and orientation are delaying the process. Additionally, some employees are making the choice to collect unemployment due to the extended winter break they would have. They want the security of paychecks after November 25th, when students will be sent home.

With new employees, new procedures for working and limited workers, the dining staff may not have been ready for a full campus of students on that first Sunday. Many places to eat on campus were closing early, getting severely backed up on orders, or not opening at all.

“They are trying, they just weren’t prepared. I get things and they’re dry, or it takes forever to get them. I also think that the precautions they have to take are kind of limiting their potential,” said first-year Sara Murphy, a freshman.

Head of the Dining Commons Jackie Romito-Carey said in passing that the Boost app has just had some “darn glitches.” These glitches have made it difficult for some students to eat.

“When I first got the app, it kept crashing. Now, when I am ordering lunch, I have to order for dinner. I am not eating until six because the waiting time is so long. I was even up at 2 a.m. and tried to order a sizzler and the earliest time slot was 2:30 p.m., when I am in class,” said Chang.

Although some of these issues have been resolved, Boost has had the incorrect hours for services, not had the correct menu items, cancelled students’ orders, crashed repeatedly for students, not described food properly and had a designated pick-up time that cannot be reached by workers.

Caitlin Howell, Chartwells’ Marketing Director, said that Chartwells has heard about the issues from students and they are working daily to fix them.

“We can only get better from here; we can only improve while we ensure that we’re all staying safe. Not all the information is going to be on Boost, unfortunately, so we’re going to have to send you guys to Dine On Campus to look up a menu item to see the ingredients there. You can also see hours of operation, so if a location does close down unexpectedly, it will immediately be updated there,” said Howell.

Head Chef Troy Bellot also said that the menu does have to change for the dining commons depending on what they receive in shipment. Students may see one thing on the app, but then it disappears or changes. The main warehouse for food supply is in Boston and shipping is slowed by the pandemic. Due to this, Bellot has to work with what he has. The app will not always have every item being served because the developers take 15 to 30 days to correct something. It may look like there is nothing being served at a food station, but there is food available inside the dining commons.

“The Boost app is a method, but the primary way of getting food is still coming into the dining commons. Coming into the dining commons really enhances your dining experience,” said Bellot.

Knowing this information, students may be able to navigate dining. However, there has been no mass email or update to students that going into the dining commons is the best option for food. Additionally, students have expressed that food variety and quality is lacking on campus.

“The dining hall just really doesn’t have many options and the food is pretty bad. There is the same stuff everyday and I really only like the pasta. I got a burger that was burnt, but it was cold and the cheese wasn’t melted. How does that happen?” said first-year freshman Kacie Blanchet.

Keene State College signed a contract with Chartwells in 2018, citing goals to expand food options, update facilities, improve sustainability and to buy local food sources. Bellot said he thinks they have done a good job with this, contracting some students’ feelings.

“I think in 2019, we actually did a really good job with the goal. We not only expanded our vegan and vegetarian section, but we incorporated a lot of local farms into our purchasing, which I’m really, really proud of,” explained Bellot.

Further, Howell and Bellot did speak on the subject of undercooked meat, referencing the temperature logs they have for every station. Bellot said that they temperature check every piece and log it for future reference. If a student has a concern about it not being fully cooked, he will look back at the log to check.

About a year ago, there were a couple trays of chicken wings that a cook did not check correctly. Bellot said that the chef was terminated immediately.

More recently, Howell said there was an instance about two weeks ago with an undercooked piece of chicken at Lloyds. Bellot cleared up the issue, saying that it was not actually undercooked.

“There was a piece of cartilage that ran through the top end of it. So when a cook goes to temp it, of course it’s going to temp correctly. That cartilage piece,: that’s not supposed to be in a chicken tender, so that’s actually a Tyson issue. I took a picture and sent that on to Tyson, so they can work on their manufacturing,” said Bellot.

Despite this, some students said they are still feeling sick after some meals. Bellot responded by saying it might be the student’s diet that is making them sick.

“I know a lot of the kids who need to tell me that they are getting sick are eating chicken tenders and fries every day. Well, you’re eating chicken tenders and fries. That’s a lot of fried food,” said Bellot.

With reference to the other issues described, chicken tenders and fries could be the only thing students feel comfortable eating. Blanchet, Sweeney and Chang all said that they primarily eat Lloyds, which is mostly fried food.

All issues considered, is the price of meals at Keene State College appropriate and fair? Student opinion may vary on this subject, but some said they wish it was less expensive for what they are getting in return.

“I know I’m not going to use all 200 of my swipes and I know that I am not going to get my money back for that. All I use is the meal plan dollars and I am running out of them. I am wasting my money in the long run,” said Chang.

Both Chang and Blanchet said they wish there was an option with only meal plan dollars or with a very small amount of board meal swipes.

  “I’ve been here for three weeks and I’ve only gone to the dining commons eleven times. I just think it’s crazy that I only really use the meal plan dollars and the meal plan is two thousand dollars,” said Blanchet.

Chartwell and Keene State’s contract will not expire for another eight years; however, Ferrell did say that they will go out to bid with other companies when the time comes. Previously, contracts would just automatically get renewed, but Ferrell wants there to be a new normal for all Keene contracts to look for new ideas when the time comes.

“It lets you see what the marketplace looks like and what other companies are offering. It also makes the partnership that you have know that they’ve got to keep things fresh and interesting and meeting the goals of the institution. No matter if we love everything that is happening, we should still go through that process because you’re going to get new insights and new thoughts,” said Ferrell.

If students are having issues with dining on campus now, they can do a few different things. There is a text to chat number for immediate issues, they can go into the dining commons to speak with Bellot in person and reach out to Howell through email or in person. If issues are not resolved after these things, they can reach out to Ferrell at the Student Involvement Office. She can intervene and will help to make sure students are satisfied with the dining on campus.

Ferrell said that they also review meal plans yearly, so if students want change, they should communicate that with her.

“I know that it has been challenging for folks in this startup and I hope that they do understand that there are a lot of people working a lot of hours to try and make things right. I think that it will just take a little bit of grace and patience. In the meantime, if there are things that people are having challenges with, they should absolutely reach out because we won’t know unless we are told,” said Ferrell.

 

Kiana Joler can be contacted at:

kjoler@kscequinox.com