Dining Services aims to gain students’ approval

Mary Born

Honestly, Dining Services has a terrible reputation on the Lawrence campus. You can’t ever go to Downer or Lucinda’s without hearing someone at the next table (or perhaps sitting right next to you) complain about the quality of the food that is being provided. It has become a part of life on campus: the food here is bad, and everyone just has to live with it. However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for those of us who have suffered years of unfulfilling meals, and for those who are just now learning why everyone complains so much, Lawrence has hired a new director of Dining Services, Patrick Niles, who wants to turn this all around, and most people are in agreement that it’s about time.
Niles has had a great deal of experience on college campuses and with their dining programs. He worked for the UW campuses at Eau Claire, Green Bay, and Stout before signing on to Lawrence this year. Upon coming to Lawrence this summer, he was surprised at the amount of work that needed to be done. “I came from an environment where things worked like a well-oiled machine,” he says. “Things here were slightly archaic.” Archaic indeed: Downer, as a dining hall, has all the charm of an elementary school cafeteria, and it was obvious to Niles how much organization and dedication would be necessary to make some much needed changes. However, this task seemed a bit daunting. “I feel like I have to build this program from the ground up,” he says about the lack of efficiency and the generally pessimistic views of food services at Lawrence.
Dining Services has never been thought of as being a big seller for convincing students to come to Lawrence. Professors, programs, and student life on campus are given much more attention when prospective students come here to check things out. However, it has finally come to the attention of the administration that a bad dining experience, and the knowledge from current students that it really doesn’t ever get better, can be a deal breaker for prospective students when on the fence between Lawrence and other comparable liberal arts schools. “It really is important for recruitment and retention,” Niles stresses. “You really have to provide the best of everything in order to attract the best students.”
Some immediate changes have already been implemented in Downer and Lucinda’s. Lucy’s has started serving and a “To Go” option. Niles decided to start these programs in order to add a little more convenience to students’ hectic lives. “It used to be that if you couldn’t get over there you were out of luck,” says Niles. “But now if you have 10 minutes you can come in and grab a good, nutritious meal and take it to wherever you need to go.” Another, somewhat subtler change that has been taking place is the preparation of the food itself. As Niles puts it, “We have gone back to more basic cooking. We make a lot more of the food from scratch.” This may make preparation a bit more labor intensive, but Niles hopes t