Behind the Weekly Menu: A Look into Our Food Operations

FoodOps

by Kate Stafford

A bright and crisp display greets all students as they walk into Tiernan dining hall, but the shining pixels of the week’s menu hides a much bleaker picture. The addition of the new television seems almost ironic in comparison to the realities of the facilities themselves as it struggles to meet the growing demand of Carlow University.

Aladdin Food Company supplies all food services to Carlow and has worked under contract for the past fifteen years, which means Carlow still retains ultimate control over operations concerning the three main dining places on campus. This leaves Aladdin working the best they can with the resources they are allotted on top of the environmental work-arounds needed for a small university perched on a hill at the edge of Oakland.

The location of the university can’t be helped short of bulldozing the hill and rerouting traffic but it does create unique challenges Aladdin must face. Leeann Mustello, Director of Dining Services, recalls such a challenge. During catering events even to a different building such as AJP, the trucks carrying food and supplies only have to go a short distance but because of one way streets, heavy traffic, and the layout of the campus, a small drop-off can take “upwards of 30 minutes – just sitting there,” Leeann says. Figuring out these logistics can take time and further complicate the issues of adequately meeting the needs of all students.

A recent health inspection this year reveals preliminary plans to resurface the floors of the cafeteria kitchens but the state of the floor has been commented on by inspectors since 2012. The responsibility to replace aging floors and equipment falls to Carlow and their ability to respond to service requests in a timely manner. This process slows down the speed at which facilities can stay up to date and work properly. Service Requests for equipment and other needs are sent by Aladdin as they arise, while budgeting for other expenditures happen twice a year and are usually decided by administrations like the Student Government. Decisions like the television display in lieu of more everyday needs show a disconnect between the governing bodies of Carlow and practicalities that would go a long way in supporting the students.

At a typical university, food services are usually split into a main cafeteria for the student body and a separate cafeteria for faculty whose tastes understandably run differently from the average undergrad. At Carlow, space constraints dictate that the cafeteria serve both the students and faculty concurrently. The cafeteria is also used to feed the campus school a menu more suited for children, with their meal times impacting when the cafeteria is open to the student body. The student body itself poses more challenges for food operations as Carlow has a notable percentage of commuters and adult CAP students along with the traditional resident hall undergraduates. Franny’s, The Celtic Café, and Tiernan then have to provide food options able to meet the needs of a student grabbing a quick but filling meal before class after working all day and a student that lives in the dorms and doesn’t have outside food sources readily available. Aladdin is no stranger to fulfilling special dietary requests though.  According to Aladdinfood.com, they are the first food management company to offer an “all-vegetarian and 100% organic college and school dining programs in the United States at Maharishi University of Management and the Maharishi School in Fairfield, IA”

While Carlow’s small size does provide daunting challenges, Mustello welcomes the change of pace from the larger universities she has worked at. Students aren’t just “faces in a crowd. You get the chance to put names to faces,” she says and the size even enables Aladdin to learn tastes and preferences of individual students. Carlow’s size can be a definite benefit to ensuring the needs of all students are met but only if the resources are there and properly allocated to support the effort.

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