College students are simple creatures. They require an internet connection, a place to sleep, and calories. Lots of calories. Without food, students and staff alike would struggle significantly to produce the results they desire. That being said, feeding a university is no small task.
Western Carolina University has a population of over 12,000 students, 10,500 of which are undergraduate students. 4,500 of these students live on campus and make use of two dining halls, Brown Hall and Courtyard Cafe, to fulfill their need for calories.
Throughout the semester, Catamount Dining services meet together in an open forum setting to discuss the good and the bad of dining services on campus. The most recent meeting took place on Feb. 9, where members discussed recent changes and additions to services available on campus.
Changes to Brown Hall include an updated design to the foodservice area. Originally only open for dinner due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown Hall will also be opening for lunch service on Feb 21.
This semester, Courtyard Cafe reopened the made-to-order omelet bar from 7 to 10 a.m. and added a made-to-order stir fry bar that is open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The “Home Zone” will also be open for dinner instead of lunch, serving students more health-conscious food options.
The old salad bar at the Courtyard Cafe is currently being converted into an all-day breakfast station, serving omelets and locally roasted coffee.
Chick-Fil-A now closes at 9 p.m. instead of 7 p.m., every day except for Sunday.
Outside of the food courts, Catamount Dining has been busy working on programs centered around further developing the services provided on campus.
One such program will provide a stipend to students who work for dining services. The stipend will cover tuition and meal plans for five juniors and five seniors working on campus and will lead to a dedicated culinary internship with the school after graduation.
Another program works directly with students to break up the monotony of dining hall food by planning themed events to add an element of character to the regular options. Occurring four to six times a month, these events include themes such as Taco Tuesday and Wing Night.
These changes come in an effort to combat the ever-changing foodservice industry, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly complicated the industry as a whole.
Director of Auxiliary Services Robert Walker discussed the biggest challenges faced by Catamount Dining this year.
“Picking a single challenge is tough, but labor shortages and supply chain issues related to the pandemic are at the top. In many ways, they are closely related. These are national trends that are exacerbated by WCU’s rural nature,’ Walker said. ‘I am sure most students have seen other restaurants and service industries share our challenges in their hometowns.”
Supply chain shortages combined with less reliable work have slowed the efficiency of the providers that Catamount Dining looks to for food and supplies. The pandemic has also negatively impacted the number of people seeking jobs. People are working less, whether it be because of residual fear caused by the pandemic, or overall fatigue; and that makes staffing the dining halls much more difficult than necessary.
Despite the unfavorable circumstances, COVID-19 complications have not stopped Catamount Dining from providing our campus with the calories it requires. In fact, this semester features the most robust menu on campus to date.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Auxiliary Enterprises Keith Corzine commented on the hard work Catamount Dining has put in this year.
“I am extremely proud of our Catamount Dining team for their efforts and expertise in providing quality food service despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Only a few of us know the particulars related to staffing shortages and supply interruptions because the next meal continues to be served,” Corzine said.
“Most of us utilize services, both on and off-campus, without thinking about the effort that goes into making those services possible. During the pandemic, many services have become much more difficult to deliver, with fewer staff working longer hours to try and create a good experience. Many of these jobs are hard, often thankless work,’ Walker said. ‘I always like to remind students that we are here to make their experience as pleasant as possible – they are our customers and guests. We only know what you want if you share it with us!”
Feedback can be given to Catamount Dining in many ways. The easiest is through the “VOC” system, which is a feedback system you can access throughout dining halls on campus by scanning a QR code, typically on the napkin holders. Another way to provide feedback is through emailing Catamount Dining at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meetings such as the one held on Feb. 9 occur periodically throughout each semester, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and share your thoughts. The next meetings will happen in the Harrill Hall assembly room on March 16 and April 13 from 6 to 8 p.m.