Photo description: A new welcome sign greets students entering the Janzow dining hall.
Photo credit: Nora Betts
By Nora Betts
Chartwells’ Director of Dining Services Patrick O’Brien is beginning his first full year at CUNE by increasing creative menu options and streamlining the dining experience to “better understand today’s college student.”
O’Brien said he focused on making mealtimes easier and more enjoyable for busy students.
“Students today have never been busier, which makes mealtimes stressful and up against the clock to get to the next class. I wanted to make additions I thought would help streamline dining for students,” said O’Brien.
A new menu monitor at the cashier desk displays the meal options available in the dining hall, allowing students to quickly find what they want and reduce their wait times.
“If there are lines building up, we want students to know what’s being served in the dining center as soon as they walk in,” O’Brien said.
Junior Cameron Schroeder said the menu monitor lessens the stress of meal rushes, especially at lunchtime between classes. “I think the new menu monitor is a great idea and will help a lot with the chaos that happens during lunchtime,” she said.
Sophomore Kyla Schleusener said that the meal monitor will help athletes get their meals quickly between activities.
“After practice, various athletes, including myself, have stressed over being able to quickly grab a bite to eat before their 7 p.m. class,” Schleusener said, “so having the ability to know what is being served as we enter will ease some of the stress.”
New station signage helps both current and prospective students navigate their way through the dining hall and identify where they can get the food they want.
“Chartwells wants to help any way we can in attracting new students to Concordia,” O’Brien said.
The Swipe Plus program will premiere in the Dog House Grill, allowing students to use a meal swipe plus a few dining dollars to buy a specialty salad, wrap or sandwich with a fountain drink.
The Swipe Plus program will begin with only cold food items, but O’Brien said he aims to expand the menu offerings. The cold items will be pre-packaged for convenience but will be made in-house with fresh ingredients. Current menu items include Chicken Caesar Wrap, Thai Chicken Wrap, Sweet Berry Feta Salads, Steak and Cheddar Hero, and more, according to O’Brien.
Schleusener said the program will help athletes who want to get quick, healthy meals. “One thing I know as a track athlete is that we often try to avoid heavy meals around lunch time,” said Schleusener. “However, being able to snag a wrap or salad for lunch will be highly valued.”
The Swipe Plus options will be displayed in a new open air merchandising cooler. The program was first announced by O’Brien at a Student Senate open forum in April after the Senate discussed reinstating the formerly discontinued Swipe Box program.
The Swipe Box program offered a six-item menu for purchase at the Dog House with a meal swipe rather than dining dollars. It was a full meal-exchange program where the cost of the item equaled the cost of the meal swipe. Menu items were similar to the classic Dog House burgers and fries. The program was discontinued several years ago partly due to budgeting concerns.
O’Brien, who took the position of Director of Dining Services in March, has 13 years of experience in university food service, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has three pro-chef graduate-level certifications. He said he is passionate about making changes based on student feedback and plans on attending weekly Student Senate meetings to hear from students and take suggestions.
“Like I said in the Student Senate meeting last year, I can implement all this cool stuff and I can think it’s cool, but if the students don’t have a good reaction to it or have other suggestions, that’s really what those meetings should be about and me attending them,” O’Brien said. “[It’s all] about the feedback.”
Student Senate Secretary Emma VanTol said that she is encouraged by O’Brien’s involvement and follow-through with the Senate.
“Last year when he presented at the Student Senate meeting, we were all extremely impressed by his plans for the future of Concordia’s food service, and it is exciting to see it all come to fruition,” said VanTol.
She said the Senate will continue to work with O’Brien to make the food service the best it can be.
“You can come and talk to me any time,” O’Brien said. “Nothing is ever set in stone. I really want our operation to mirror what the students want, not necessarily what I think is best.”
O’Brien said he is excited to begin his first full year at Concordia after a busy period of adjustment and preparation. “So getting my feet under me this past spring and then obviously this summer have been good just to put my kind of twist on things and impart my experiences with food service into the different areas of the operation,” said O’Brien. “I feel really, really good.”
What else is new in dining this fall?
- A new flat-top griddle at the grill station offers eggs and omelets to order at breakfast.
- Chartwells has purchased a TurboChef Fire oven that can cook pizzas in 90 seconds. Students can build custom pizzas that are cooked fresh to order. The oven can also be used for things like chicken wings, shepherd’s pies, and pasta bakes.
- The stir fry station will be used for something different on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Examples include Taco Tuesday street tacos, Pho bowls or barbecue macaroni and cheese bowls.
- Flavor Shot Pepsi machines in the dining hall will let students customize their Pepsi with shots of vanilla, orange, lemon or cherry, with additional flavors to come.
- House-smoked barbecue will be featured as a limited-time option at the Dog House Grill following positive student reviews of the barbecue brisket tacos served last semester.