News Date: 
Friday, January 28, 2005

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Institutional Editorial

By Lawrence Biemiller

The Chronicle of Higher Education

January 28, 2005

For many University of Georgia students, comfort food is Chef Boyardee ravioli. The university's food service has experimented with upscale ravioli offerings, but students don't want fancy stuff -- they want Chef Boyardee. At lunch and dinner.

They also want cereal to be available all day. And they want chicken strips. Lots of chicken strips. The food service's cooking-school-trained chefs can put lemon-pepper orange roughy and cauliflower polonaise on the menu all they like, but what students can't get enough of are chicken strips.

And pizza, of course. The pizza station at the university's Snelling Dining Commons goes through a dozen cases of frozen pizza dough a day -- enough for 600 16-inch pizzas -- and stays busy till it closes at midnight. The pizza station, which the food service calls Giorgio's, offers traditional toppings, like pepperoni, mushrooms, and Italian sausage, but it also turns out chipotle chicken pizza, chicken fajita pizza, and even "McCheeseburger" pizza.

J. Michael Floyd, the food-services director, sees only good in students' tastes. Ravioli, pizza, and especially cereal are cheap to serve, and they help balance out the cost of chicken strips, which are more expensive. By giving students what they want, he's both keeping them happy and keeping average food costs low enough that he can splurge now and then on special events like the Five Star Dinner, which celebrates the many awards the food service has won. He can also afford to pay for Saturday-night "premium entrees," like steak or shellfish, at Oglethorpe Commons, the most cramped of the four main dining facilities. Built to serve a 500-bed dormitory, it now plates 3,300 meals a day.

At the other end of the dining-hall spectrum is the Village Summit, which opened last year to feed residents of a new 1,200-bed East Village residence-hall complex. The Village Summit is so spacious and appealing that it feels like it should be at a resort hotel. Besides the main entree line, it offers an omelet station, a pizza station, deli and grilled-sandwich stations, a salad bar, a smoothie bar, and a station that serves soup in hollowed-out rounds of bread. "Students want food expressly for them, cooked to order," says Mr. Floyd, but they also like being able to decide for themselves whether, say, the line for omelets is too long and they should get something else instead.

The dining halls offer vegetarian, vegan, and low-fat items at every meal, and Mr. Floyd notes that this year the food service is serving only Black Angus hamburger. The food service runs its own warehouse, which was recently expanded. It can now store up to 885 pallets of frozen food at a time, and 140 more pallets of refrigerated items. Samuel B. Phillips Jr., who runs the warehouse and does the food service's purchasing, buys $9-million worth of food a year.

"We've always done our own food service," says George E. Stafford, the university's associate vice president for auxiliary services. "We do it better. We've committed a lot of effort to it over the years." Mr. Floyd is proud to say that even though no one is required to sign a meal-plan contract, the number of contracts this year is 9 percent higher than the number of beds in university residence halls. Students pay $2,592 a year for a seven-day-a-week plan that allows them to stop by a dining hall any time they want, even if it's just to get a cookie and a soda.

The dining halls are open continuously from 7 a.m. until at least 7 p.m. Snelling, which stays open late, serves 1,800 meals a day between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., and 400 more between 10 and midnight. "The dining commons," Mr. Floyd says, "are the true student centers."