Students raise concerns about dining, Parkhurst responds with change

With the completion of their second Dining Committee meeting, Parkhurst is further seeking to implement dining hall changes in support of student wants and needs.

On March 8, Parkhurst announced on their social media page that they had made several changes to Brooks Dining Hall following the student feedback they received at their focus group. 

Parkhurst hosted an open forum discussion with the campus community on March 3, via Zoom. Participants were able to voice their concerns directly to leading members of the Parkhurst team and management. 

“We have never done a dining committee this early in the semester, but last semester, the first two weeks were bumpy — they were bumpy for all of us,” Parkhurst Manager Stephanie Lang said. “We thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to jump on (Zoom) and get your feedback to see what is working and what is not working (for you).”

Lang covered changes that Parkhurst made from last year’s feedback at the start of the meeting. 

“Last semester, we rolled out the mobile ordering at McKinley’s (with the GET app),” Lang said. “Through that semester, we addressed a lot of concerns, we reintroduced made-to-order deli sandwiches and expanded menu options. This semester, we heard loud and clear that students wanted pasta back so we introduced a pasta concept on the mobile app, so we are really excited about it. We also added a check out station right by the pick up station to purchase snacks and bottled water at McKinley’s.”

In addition to these changes, Lang continued to explain that Parkhurst added specials for the Lent celebration, including seafood.

“At Brooks, we heard you loud and clear about portion sizes and we are portion-sizing everything so it is more fair across the board,” Lang added. “We are making everything as standardized as humanly possible.”

Parkhurst also added the smoothie station, in addition to the addition to a small grocery section in Brooks Hall’s Pine Market.

“(For) students who said that they do not like to leave campus or their rooms a lot and really enjoy cooking, or would prefer cooking — particularly students with allergies or dietary restrictions — we wanted to give them the option to buy groceries, especially in the first two weeks that they (could not) leave campus,” Lang said. 

Following the update, Lang then offered students the opportunity to share their concerns with the management team. 

“Although I enjoy having eggs and other groceries at the Pine Market, they are prohibitively expensive,” Peter Alegre, ’23, said. “Most items are charged (high) compared to what you see at the grocery store.”

Lang explained that Parkhurst does not have the purchasing power of larger, commercial stores such as Walmart, which contribute to the higher prices. 

“Most of the time from the delivery fees from our vendor we are paying as much if not more than what you can get the stuff for at Walmart,” Lang replied. “As (the Pine Market) grows, there is a possibility to renegotiate with vendors to get preferred pricing, but at this point, what we have is what we can get and have access to. Some vendors are really hesitant because colleges do not really do this so it was really hard to find products and find competitive prices.”

Lang added that Parkhurst is reevaluating their prices to ensure students receive a more competitive pricing.

Students raised concerns about the amount of meals swipes needed to purchase a meal at Brooks Dining Hall. 

“Almost every time that I visited Brooks (Dining Hall) this semester, I have had to use two swipes,” Ryan Valerio, ’22, said. “Before, I was able to use one swipe and eat as much as I wanted because it was buffet style. I know that there are COVID-19 restrictions and I understand that, but now we have self-serve cereal and waffles, so I am not seeing the rationale anymore for why the system is like this. We are getting way less value for our swipes. I know that you said that we can now do take-out — I appreciate that option — but take-out was an option before with the Green Box System.”

One student recalled that they had used three meal swipes just to receive one meal.  Another student commented that the new system, which had smoothies available for one meal swipe, were less valuable than before. Students on the mini meal plans shared their experiences with the Parkhurst team.

“You have all the ears in this room hearing the exact same thing and that is exactly what the dining committee is for — to be able to hear the feedback,” Lang said. “Buffets are dead. I hate to admit it, but I do not foresee them coming back — I do not foresee all-you-can-eat dining coming back. I think that (COVID-19) has pointed out safety concerns that have always been there so I do not ever see Brooks (Dining Hall) going back to any kind of buffet.”

Lang encouraged students to use a larger meal plan if needed as well. She mentioned that they had offered additional plans with more Munch Money, such as Plan A. 

As a result of these discussions, Brooks Dining Hall received a complete redesign of the existing system. Parkhurst added a pick four option where students can get four items from any of the stations for one meal swipe. Smoothies are now available for Gator Cash or Munch Money. 

Parkhurst also added hot chocolate and expanded the vegan options available to students, such as vegan pizza and tofu scramble. Parkhurst plans to continue to expand their vegan entree  selection, according to Lang. Additionally, Parkhurst is considering adding vegan chips at the request of a student on their social media page. 

Lang encouraged students to reach out to Patkhurst with additional feedback regarding menu options. 

“If you have anything specific that you would like to see at the stations — all of the time — that would be great feedback for us,” Lang said.  

Aside from Brooks Dining Hall, students requested that hot breakfast options become available at McKinley’s again. 

“Right now, the reason we have not had (hot breakfast options) for the past two weeks is because the pasta concept is very busy — not just on your end with the ordering, but also on our end with the cooking,” Sous Chef Jason Snavley said. “I usually make the breakfast sandwiches myself, but most of my mornings have been spent helping the pasta concept and ensuring that we have all of our preparation complete for the upcoming service whether it be lunch or dinner. I plan to have the breakfast sandwiches available on Tuesdays and maybe Fridays, too.”

Students also requested that fresh fruit become available in the market next to McKinley’s. Additionally, students mentioned that they would like to see mozzarella sticks brought back more frequently at McKinley’s. Due to the structural changes, McKinley’s has only offered mozzarella sticks as a late night special along with other student favorites, such as boneless wings. Parkhurst will bring mozzarella sticks back more frequently for late night specials as opposed to every three weeks. 

Any student with additional feedback is encouraged to attend the next Parkhurst Dining Committee meeting and Focus Group on March 17 via Zoom at 7 p.m. Students can access the link in Parkhurst’s Instagram, @alleghenydining, and it will also be available in MyAllegheny.