Housing and Dining Services Tells How It Prepares 5,600 Meals Daily
by Julia Sommer
"We didn't eat this well in college," is the notion that leaps to mind when you have lunch at Unit III's attractive, all-you-can-eat dining room.
Students pile in for a variety of options: salad bar, make-your-own-sandwich deli, hamburger bar, hot entrees, soup, desserts, all kinds of soft drinks--even a cereal bar for late-risers. At breakfast there's a grill for students to cook their own eggs.
Behind the scenes, the care and planning that goes into feeding 5,200 students living in the residence halls, plus another 400 board-only customers, resembles that of a complex space launch.
Everything is measured to the gram and timed to the last second to deliver 2.8 million meals a year. A special software package, FoodPro, helps keep track of everything and predicts who will eat what when.
Because Housing and Dining Services is completely self-sufficient, it has to keep its customers happy, says food operations chief Nancy Jurich.
Students buy meal plans ranging from five to 19 meals a week. That works out to $4.63 per meal for the five-meal option or $2.75 a meal with the 19-meal option.
Jurich, a Berkeley graduate in nutrition, oversees a staff of 150 career employees and 1,000 part-time student workers operating in six residence halls and five campus restaurants.
To keep on top of student desires, Dining Services does surveys, student taste-testings, and involves students in menu planning. Berkeley won third place this year in the National Restaurant Association's institutional menu competition.
Last spring, after a three-hour special tasting, students gave their opinions on new products presented by more than 50 food vendors. Lemon-baked pollock, Berry Berry Kix cereal, and vegetarian tamales are now on the menu, thanks to their participation.
A sample menu for a Tuesday night dinner includes hot-and-sour soup, beef stew, broccoli frittata, fish sticks, and a baked potato bar. For dessert there's strawberry gelatin, cheesecake, and sliced peaches.
To meet special needs, Dining Services provides take-out meals for Muslim students during the month of Ramadan. Vegetarian entrees are increased during Lent, and kosher meals have been available on request.
Because surveys show that 15 percent of the clientele is vegetarian and 1 percent is vegan, at least one hot vegetarian entree is provided at lunch and dinner. Ninety percent of these qualify as vegan meals, those that contain no animal products.
Still, it's hard to please everyone. Some vegan students recently complained to the Daily Cal that they aren't offered enough good options to meet their choice of lifestyle.
To avoid boredom, says Michael Laux, manager of the Unit III dining room, diners may eat at any of the residence hall dining rooms, decorations are changed monthly, and special requests are filled whenever possible.
As a lift for students headed into finals, residence hall menus were changed Nov. 9, and Dining Services always takes note of exam times to make sure enough food is available at the right times.
On Dec. 1, a special holiday meal, featuring prime rib, fettucini with prawns, vegetarian crepes, and a dessert bar, will be served.
Birthday cakes and gift packages are even under consideration for next year.
So why is dorm food a perennial complaint? Expectations, for one thing. Jurich noted that a 1993 survey of first-year students found 62 percent said they expected residence hall food to be bad before they even came to Berkeley. Jurich points to the movie "Animal House" as a prime example of bad PR for dorm food. Experience with years of school cafeteria food doesn't help either.
Another reason, she says, is that students may complain about food as a substitute for complaining about more important, personal issues that are harder to address. As a new college student, it's much easier to strike up a conversation in the dining room about the food than about one's loneliness or the state of the world.
Editor's Note: Faculty and staff can check out dorm food themselves by buying an A La Carte card for use in residence-hall dining rooms and campus restaurants. These range from $19 to $115. Call Dining Services at 642-1524 for more information.
A D I N E R S' S U G G E S T I O N B O X
As you might expect, there's no lack of comment on residence hall food. Here's a sampling from the more than 10,000 "comment cards" filled out by students each year:
"I ate fish sticks today. They reminded me of cheese sticks. Can we have some cheese sticks?"
"I want hummus. Hummus will save the world, I promise."
"Please cut the cucumbers thinner; they are very fat now."
"Turkey burgers--is that a joke?"
"Hi guys. Sorry we are slobs. Thanks for feeding us."
"If we can send a man to the moon, why can't we get the trays dry?"
"Do you ever put prizes in the cereal bins? I've been digging through them and can't find any."
"Forget the green Jello."
"More low-cal food and exciting flavors of ice cream."