Food services at SJU have seen their ups and downs

In the last four years, I have written often about conditions on campus that affect the lives of St. John’s students. I have written about the construction that has turned our campus into an obstacle course of dirt piles and cut down available parking spots for commuters, the effectiveness of the laptop program and how it can better serve students, the intricacies of the housing selection process, and possible ways to improve the turnout of SGI elections. But of all the topics I have looked at, none has seen such positive change as the state of
dining services on campus.

Food services is one of the biggest concerns affecting the lives of residents as well as commuter students. While residents depend on campus dining halls to provide basic meals and the C-store for snacks and drinks to stock their rooms, commuters also rely on campus dining institutions for quick meals between classes.

That said, students who have relied on dining services at St. John’s for the last few years have voiced a number of concerns over the quality, convenience and variety of what the various dining halls have to offer.

In about a five-year span, St. John’s has seen three different companies stand as food service providers on campus. The first, Aramark, was replaced before any of the current undergraduate students were attending this school. Students at St. John’s during Aramark’s reign had many complaints that would sound eerily familiar to any student going here now. Food quality was poor, variety was nonexistent and the hours of dining halls were anything but convenient.

Sodexho, the company that this year’s seniors came into St. John’s with and that freshmen have probably not even heard of, was viewed by many who were here for Aramark as the answer to their prayers. The food was better, Sodexho seemed to be going out of its way to make improvements for the students’ sakes, and there was hope for further improvements.

However, after a few semesters the dining service seemed to fall into a serious rut. Resident students found the lack of variety in Montgoris appalling as there were actual complaints that serving chicken as the entrée five days a week was just too much, especially during that period of days when students would cut into their chicken to
find it undercooked.

At the beginning of last year’s spring semester, Chartwells became the newest dining service company to come to St. John’s. Some students were doubtful of Chartwells at first, since there did not seem to be any massive alterations to the way dining services were run on campus. Yet within the first few weeks, changes did come.

Food stations in Montgoris were rearranged, with two new sections added outside the original cafeteria area. This helped the crowding problems that had once plagued Montgoris diners who had to wait in massive lines to get to the couple of food sections. While the problem of long lines has not been completely alleviated, the new layout has spread out the various sections, providing more options for students eating at Montgoris.

The food itself got better thanks to new ideas like international food nights, various dessert bars and double-swipe meals where local restaurants come to Montgoris and offer high-quality food like sushi to students.

One of the greatest improvements that Chartwells has made is the increase in late-night dining hours on campus. The hours of operation for Marillac, the dining hall most frequented by commuters, have been extended, with each section remaining open until around 9:30 p.m. and the fast food places running until 11 p.m.

A new-late night dining service has also been introduced at Montgoris, where students can buy snack food like chicken wings, hamburgers, and French fries up until 3 a.m. The C-store has also extended its hours to 3 a.m. in order to better serve students.

These changes are important for two reasons. First, they are important in the service they provide students. Second, and perhaps more significant, is the fact that it means Chartwells has listened to the requests of students where past companies have not. It is this second reason that makes Chartwells look so much better than past companies that have served St. John’s.
There has certainly been a vast improvement in dining services over the last year.

However, Chartwells should not fall into the same trap of complacency that led Sodexho’s services to stagnate. There are definitely areas that can and should still see change, like the more sparse food provided at Montgoris between meals and the requests of students for a 24-hour dining location.

Chartwells has started off very well, showing that they care about what the students they serve think and promising to continue improving food services on campus. As long as Chartwells maintains this strategy, students at St. John’s may have a much more appetizing future ahead of them.