Eric Archambault has just finished his morning classes on the first day of school, Sept. 4. He is hungry and looking forward to his favorite place on campus, Cheney Hall. As he walks in, he is greeted by one of the cashiers who smiles and asks him how his day has been. He says it’s been hard. After passing his ID card under the scanner just like he’s done hundreds of times before, he goes to the Northern Kitchen section in order to pick up his first meal of the semester.
However, Archambault is in for a surprise. Instead of the big, meaty plates he remembers from previous years, he picks up a petite, white plate that feels light as a feather. To make matters worse, he can’t put nearly as much food on it without putting it in one big pile.
Like most other students, Archambault feels very upset about this change and believes it was an attempt by Aramark to save money because busy students might be less inclined to wait in multiple lines for seconds and thirds. Cleaning costs could be reduced.
Are the plates, in fact, smaller? According to Todd Alden, the Director of Operations at Cheney Hall, the plates have a diameter of nine inches the same as last year and are designed to hold the same amount of food as last year’s blue plates.
Student response has been mixed. One student, Marguerite McDonald, is a swimmer whose training demands a large appetite. Anyone who has gone through the ritual of two-a-day practices and long days at meets knows how much food is required.
A major part of her training is recovery, and that comes from her diet. McDonald’s choice breakfast combination includes an omelet and toast, easily fitting on the large blue plates. Unfortunately, this year has brought an end to that because now, she can only fit the omelet.
For Alden, the change is the result of the larger vision: to enhance the image of Cheney Hall as a high-class dining facility that is hard to match.
“I don’t like to think of [Cheney Hall] as a cafeteria…I like to think of it more as a restaurant.”
The goal of having Cheney being like a restaurant explains its past renovations, but here is some background that many current students likely do not know.
For a great deal of Cheney’s history, it was set up as a retail facility, where students would swipe in (using their meal plan), and then use the familiar Dining Dollars to pick out what they wanted. The set up was similar to that of the Union today, and included a Subway, JavaCity, Grillworks, Tortilla Fresca, and Cranberry Farms.
Then, in 2004, Cheney Hall was completely renovated and moved the retail options to Woods Hall. The replacements were the new concepts that students know now: the Cheney Grille, Northern Kitchen, Café Roma, and American Bakery. The benefit of this was that students had access to an all-you-can eat buffet that involved more interaction with the chefs and more live preparation.
“I think we were looking for higher quality and a better eating experience,” explained Alden.
The image of the restaurant was born. The more elegant plates, which cost about a dollar more than their predecessors, are part of that image.
Alden does acknowledge that Cheney has wanted to reduce food waste, which used to be a larger problem on campus.
Back in 2009, the plates were 10.5 inches in diameter. Studies conducted at Cheney determined that there was about one pound of food waste generated per person, per day. Cutting the plate size down to the current nine inches reduced this waste from a half pound and then to a quarter pound per person, per day.
Despite the complaints about these white plates being smaller, according to Alden, they are really here for the image of Cheney and to help the environment.
Alden views the students as not just mere numbers who shuffle in and out of his dining hall; he views them as customers, the force behind the changes that happen.
To him, “It’s the customers that drive the changes,” not the administrators coming up with random ideas and implementing them without a thought for what the students, the customers, actually want.