At the start of the spring 2022 semester, the Dining Commons (DC) returned to self-serve, something Keene State students have not seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Previously, students were being served their food by the dining commons chefs and associates.
Whitney Hightower, the marketing manager and dietitian, said, “It was a long conversation, primarily with the rapid response team on campus.” She mentioned that Keene State Dining stayed in touch with the rapid response team all of the fall semester. Hightower said, “Our goal has always been to go back to self-serve because that was what the normal operation was. We were assured by them that the switch would be acceptable and safe.” She said that is what informed their decision to return to self-serve for the spring 2022 semester. In addition, Hightower noted, if need be, that they could go back to having chefs and associates serve students.
As a result of self-serve, Hightower said she believes the self-serve is going well among the students. She said, “We’ve received really positive feedback from students, just that they’ve found the experience of dining in a lot more enjoyable.”
Regarding the return to self-serve, senior Madison Gubata is happy about the decision. “I’m very happy about it because now we are able to have our own portions and choose what we like,” Gubata said. She mentioned that it feels more normal having it self-serve.
Gubata adds, “I think our lines are shorter because people can move a little quicker and it definitely seems easier on the workers as well.”
Similarly, John Fisher, a sophomore at KSC, said, “It is nicer for the students too. I feel like there are no more lines really and you can kind of grab and go.” He also added, “I think it’s definitely a lot more convenient, probably gives the workers more opportunity to focus on making the food better… It’s a lot more convenient, I’d say is the biggest thing.”
Likewise, Hightower said, “It reduces the need for labor. Whenever you increase the student participation in the dining experience, you automatically free up time for the associates to focus on other things.” Hightower said before self-serve, they could not open some stations. Now with self-serve, they can alternate the grill and sauté stations.
Furthermore, Hightower disclosed, “If we get into a different situation with labor, I can see us opening more stations, I can see us offering more at stations. Our goals are always to increase student satisfaction and highlight culinary innovation because we have some really amazing culinarians on our staff.” She added that they plan on having “more events more often” in the future.
The switch to dishes has made it easier for students when getting food. “One of the COVID safety measures in place was that we had to give you a separate plate for each station, so that’s probably another barrier for students not wanting to go get another plate,” Hightower said.
As the DC is reverting to a more environmentally friendly approach with dishes, it is reducing the need for paper and plastics. Hightower mentioned that “It was definitely more in line with our sustainability goals.”
For students wondering about the green boxes, Hightower said, “It was one of those things pre-COVID we couldn’t really conceptualize what takeout would look like. We came up with a system throughout COVID and realized that this is a really feasible option that we can offer to students that want takeout… We are always looking for ways to improve that program because it is relatively new, but it’s here to stay.”
Timothy Bruns can be contacted at: