The survey breakdown is as follows: Overall satisfaction with the dining program is at 3.72 out of 5. This is down 4% from the Fall 2008 score of 3.85. We find it most accurate to compare the scores seasonally, because this gives us a true read of menus and services against their like experiences from prior years.
Likewise, the individual categories all show a slight down-trend from last fall – anywhere from 1-5% (see below).
I believe this slight downturn is a reflection of student feelings about the change in the dining program, a result of the economic impact on our services.
Speaking directly to the change in breakfast service, we saw that 4% of respondents commented negatively on the removal of hot grill items from the weekday House breakfast menu. I am sharing this feedback as part of a larger series of discussions currently taking place around service changes. As you know, the Idea Bank generated a number of comments related to dining. Last week I met with the working group reviewing those comments, and I provided them a baseline understanding of HUDS’ operations, funding, and history related to the undergraduate dining program. I have shared this same information with the Undergraduate Council Dining Advisory Committee, and next Monday evening will share it with the entire UC. My hope is that this information will help these various bodies make informed recommendations about dining that reflect a broad base of student perspectives.
Back to the survey! Top priorities remain consistent, with satisfaction driven by:
- Taste of Food
- Freshness of Food
- Cleanliness of Plates & Utensils
Perception of taste is most positively impacted because:
- “I’ve tried it before and liked it” – 51%
- “It looked tasty” – 48%
- “Perfectly seasoned” – 35%
- “It smelled great” – 35%
This feedback helps us to refine our presentation and preparation of the food. As such, we’ll be working more to share samples of new items, and pay even closer attention to how we plate and season the food.
55% of respondents are not interested in seeing and eating more meatless entrees for sustainability reasons. As such, we’ll keep the balance of entrees as it currently exists (1 vegetarian or vegan at each meal). That said, we met with a focus group of vegetarian and vegan diners, and as a result will develop some new entrees, with greater emphasis on proteins beyond tofu. We’ll also work to make more of the soups vegan-friendly, and may even introduce some vegan desserts. We’ll also share menu ideas and do-it-yourself combos at a new site on our home page: http://www.dining.harvard.edu/vegvgn
A bit more menu feedback:
Favorite ethnic cuisines
- Chicken parmesan
- Gnocchi with sage and squash
- Red spiced chicken
- Chicken fingers
- Popcorn chicken
- Pad thai
- Squash (though this and mussels also score relatively well in the favorites)
- Asian dishes
- Fish, especially salmon (preparations other than fried)
- Indian food
- Potstickers or Chinese dumplings
And finally, we see that 12% of participants now self-identify as having a food allergy, intolerance, or special dietary need, with 6% being lactose intolerant. This is up 4% from the last time we asked this question 5 years ago, and is a trend we’ve experienced as we work to address individual concerns.
Other key findings/themes:
- There were many requests for specific varieties of fruits or vegetables, and more varied preparations of “new” fruits and vegetables
- Many of the least favorite foods are also those things that should be on the menu – but prepared more authentically. For example, respondents don’t like how we make pad thai, but it is requested often. People would rather see simple preparations executed well than complicated but un-authentic dishes.
- And we note a need to balance menu offerings so there’s always something healthy paired with something less healthy – for example we should serve pizza and chicken wings at the same meal.
To address the survey feedback, we’ll make some immediate menu changes:
- Replacing Saturday Sticky Rice Bar with Curry & Naan for the balance of this calendar year (starting 11/21)
- Removing pad thai and General Gao’s Chicken from the menu for the time being while we refine these recipes for greater authenticity
- Adding some baked and grilled fish preparations to the menu, starting with Herb Baked Salmon for lunch on November 20th
- Separating menu items for a balance between healthy and indulgent items
- vegetarian and chicken potstickers at dinner
- pepper-steak at dinner
- weekly fruit special – something unusual and seasonally appropriate
- and varied vegetables and preparations, including leafy greens (sautéed and braised) and roasted root vegetables
Many other comments will be addressed through the Winter cycle menu, which begins in January. At that point, you’ll see:
- A Korean night monthly
- Two new MYO stations (Mediterranean “Metza” with such foods as baba ghanoush, olives, pita, and more; and Indonesian Gado Gado, a vegetable salad served with a peanut sauce dressing)
- More stews and comfort-style foods
- And more of those items already noted for immediate integration.
Please accept my best wishes for the holiday season.