By Emily Cole
A new school year always brings changes – new classes, new professors, and this year at Simmons College, new changes to the Simmons Dining Services. Renovations included a remodel of Common Grounds to include Bistro 300 which serves salad and rice bowls. Meyers Café now offers flatbread pizzas and The Fens Café has a new grab and go section with premium salads and sandwiches. These renovations and new options also came with changes to prices and hours. Some of these changes were met with praise from students, faculty, and other customers of the Simmons Dining Services. Many students also professed adoration for the dining staff.
However, many students also expressed concerns around a number of areas including hour changes, economic changes, and allergens and dietary restrictions. These concerns were expressed through Facebook posts in the Class of 2018, 2019, and 2020 groups as well as Facebook messages.
The first time I reached out to Richard Cody, the Food Service Director, for an interview, I provided some basic themes and questions. He sent back a two page response and deemed that sufficient. After another request he agreed to meet and I sat down with Cody as well as Michael Kahrer, the Director of Operations; Joan Cuerva, Cody’s direct client; and Liz Sullivan, the Public Relations Manager of Simmons College, to directly address student questions and concerns.
The first thing they addressed was the change of the Fens hours. Many students, particularly commuter students and students in late labs or classes expressed that without the Fens being open, they sometimes were not able to eat.
“I am a commuter student so I only eat on academic campus. I have class from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and then 4:30-6 p.m.,” sophomore Alannah LeBlanc said. “The Fens is not an option for me anymore. I don’t like our limited options after 2 p.m. and before 11 a.m. I can’t get lunch before my three classes in the middle of the day… I know I can choose to bring my own lunch/dinner, but I commute very far and work and don’t have the time to pack myself a lunch everyday.”
In the initial response, Cody explained the decision to close The Fens earlier was based on a need to balance resources among the other locations.
He explained that the decision to specifically close at 2 p.m. was based off of meal counts and foot traffic data.
“In order to open these two additional hot food concepts, we needed to evaluate our available resources. Closing The Fens at 2 p.m. was a decision closely analyzed,” Cody said. “In doing so, it allowed us to divert additional resources at Common Grounds and Meyers Café.”
Additionally, he assured The Fens has been staying open until about 2:15 p.m. to accommodate the classes that let out at 1:50 p.m.
Another question regarding the change in hours was if it affected the hours of the beloved staff. Cody and Kahrer assured that staff was only affected positively by the changes.
“No one has lost any time or money — absolutely not,” said Cody.
“If anything, they actually had a benefit from it. Because due to people not coming back from summer break, we had cover certain positions, which goes into overtime and is better pay,” Kahrer added.
As far as the unease about a lack of options due to the Fens being closed, the group assured that in the coming weeks comfort food options would be explored at Bistro 300.
Another concern has been options for students with allergies or dietary restrictions.
“Now that the Fens closes at 2 p.m., I have very few options for food. Even now that they added an option to notify of an allergen when you order a rice bowl, they don’t change gloves, so cross contamination is a huge problem,” sophomore Laura Romano said. “Meyers has no hot food options that are gluten free or dairy free.”
In Cody’s prior response, he detailed how students with allergies could best be served.
“Consumers with dietary restrictions are strongly advised to self-identify. We ask customers to notify their server of any food allergies prior to placing their order,” Cody said. “Our culinary staff is trained annually on allergen awareness and the proper procedures for handling food when a customer identifies their allergy. We can accommodate any food allergy if we are advised in advance.”
When asked about what could be done about cross contamination allergies, Cody followed up by saying it is difficult to completely avoid cross contamination, however staffers do take precautions to minimize it as much as possible. Additionally, they are investigating other oil options that are not soy based to help those with soy allergies. For students who are vegetarian or vegan, the group said there is always a vegan station at Bartol and there are now more options in The Fens. They were also open to meeting with students with dietary restrictions to see what more could be offered.
One of the biggest questions asked by students on the meal plan has been why sushi and bottled beverages are now excluded from meal swipes. Cody, Kahrer and Cuerva did not have a specific answer. They explained that when redesigning the entirety of the dining services, it was seen as the big picture rather than as individual pieces. They explained that it was all about a balance, and they felt if students could use meal swipes at the coffee shops and Bistro 300 then they would have points available for sushi and bottled drinks. Also, the price of a combo meal did not rise to $6.75 – this was a problem in the new computer system that has since been fixed.
Finally, Cody, Kahrer and Cuerva emphasized that all of the decisions were made by committee and made by taking student feedback into account. They read comment cards and the feedback submitted through the ongoing online survey as well as the surveys sent out to students regularly. No decision is ever set in stone and aspects of Simmons Dining Services are constantly adjusted based on feedback.
“It’s a giant wheel that has to keep turning. There are a lot of parts and moving pieces,” said Cuerva.
Serious problems can be addressed to Richard.Cody@simmons.edu or the manager at the site. Remaining questions following this piece can be addressed to Emily.Cole@simmons.edu as Cody has said he is open to follow-ups and further feedback.