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Alumni Quad Dining to Shift ‘On Demand’

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Food on Demand, a new restaurant-style dining service at Alumni Quad, will serve its first students next week. Students will enter their entree orders at four touchscreen kiosks in Waterbury Hall, then wait to pick up their food at a service counter.

According to University Auxiliary Service, the new system is hoped to increase food quality, reduce food waste, and even attract uptown students’ patronage.

The current model at Alumni, a buffet line like other dining halls on campus, was lacking in UAS’s eyes.

“It lends itself to having food just kind of be parked there,” said Stephen Pearse, director of UAS. “That makes it challenging to maintain really good food quality. You have to keep it at a temperature to keep it safe, so any food you put on the line for more than fifteen or twenty minutes is going to start to look not so appetizing.”

Rather than preparing bulk pans of food at the beginning of the day, new staff hired for Food on Demand will be trained to cook smaller dishes whenever students order them. This is hoped to prevent having to throw away large amounts of food due to not being able to predict when students will be eating.

“The student population down there is somewhat transient because their classes are [uptown], so it’s hard to gauge how many students you’re gonna get for a particular meal,” said Pearse. “You don’t know if you’re gonna get three hundred for lunch or five hundred for lunch.”

According to an Alumni RA who spoke on condition of anonymity, the plans to implement Food on Demand were announced at an all-staff meeting in spring. “That was one of the promises they made,” said the RA.

He reported that administration had researched different methods of dining at other colleges to come up with the on-demand idea.

Initially, Alumni Quad assistant director Ema Buco told the ASP that the Food On Demand service would be kicking off on Monday, but UAS’ Stephen Pearse estimated that equipment installation, training, and inspections would not allow the service to open until a week later, Oct. 16.

“Sodexo is still gonna need some time to kinda play around with it because it’s new staff they’re having to train,” said Pearse. “What we’re gonna do is leave [the buffet line] open, so there’ll still be food on the line, but they’re going to do a limited amount of items from food on demand.”

Eventually, the line will be completely closed and converted into a coffee shop and bakery for students.

UAS administration was not sure of the exact cost of the project. “I would say probably in the area of a couple hundred thousand between construction and the equipment, because all this equipment was all new,” said Pearse.

Food on Demand is not expected to increase UAS revenue according to Pearse, though he repeatedly emphasized the possibility that uptown students will be attracted to Alumni’s dining hall to spend their money or swipes there.

Pearse said that additional student attraction occurs at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Blitman Hall, an existing Food on Demand setup also run by Sodexo.

Some students don’t see the benefit of the new service. “I don’t really think it matters that you go up to get your own food,” said Sebastian Rozo, a junior Political Science student on Alumni.

“There’s never really that big of a line.”

Though Rozo didn’t report any major issues with the food currently at Waterbury, he’s frustrated that Alumni dining hall closes from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.. “That’s when I get back from classes, so I’m always hungry. I hate waiting until five to go get food; it sucks.”

Asked for comment, Pearse said, “We haven’t talked about it changing. We track numbers …You can really see peaks and valleys during the course of the day, and that’s why the decision was made to close from 2:30 to 5:00 – because there wasn’t enough traffic to warrant it.”

Shawn Wilson, a sophomore from Alumni Quad, thinks the new service will be beneficial. “I think it’ll be a good way to feed people,” said Wilson. “We’re college students; we’re picky.”

“Even if it seems like a lot to do this, the intent was to really have something that’s really unique; the only place you can get it on campus is down there, so it’s something they can say, ‘hey we’ve got this, you don’t have this,’” said Pearse. “And we may see students from uptown campus going down there to check it out.”

 

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Joe Hoffman is the managing editor for the Albany Student Press.

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