Imagine going to dinner each night, not entirely sure that you’ll be able to find enough food to create a full meal. That is the reality for most vegetarians who purchase meal plans through William and Mary Dining Services.
p. “The biggest problem we face in trying to satisfy vegetarians is definitely variety,” Dining Services Resident District Manager Phil DiBenedetto said. “We’re constantly trying to come up with new items. I think our chefs do a great job, but it’s a constant effort.”
p. DiBenedetto said that chefs at the Commons and the University Center’s Center Court try to have at least one vegetarian entree at every meal. However, vegetarian students, such as junior Kristin Smith, often feel that they are forced to settle for options from the salad bar too often.
p. “The UC tries,” Smith said. “But I usually end up eating from the salad bar, or getting one of the vegetable sides instead of an actual entree.”
p. DiBenedetto admitted that it is easier to satisfy the wide variety of tastes at the Caf than at the UC. “At the Caf, we have a full vegetarian station, which has a different vegetarian entree at every meal that is often vegan as well,” he said. “At the UC, they don’t have the option of a vegetarian station due to its smaller size and layout. We try to have options available, but they’re often spread out.”
p. The problem is that the UC serves more students than the Caf — generally 16 to 17 thousand per week compared to the 14 to 15 thousand served by the Caf — due to its more central location. “The Caf does a really good job providing vegetarian main courses,” Smith said. “But I think if the UC went more in the direction of the Caf, it would benefit more people.”
p. DiBenedetto said he realizes that not all vegetarian students will be satisfied by Dining Services’ best efforts. “We can’t satisfy everyone, even though we try,” he said. “We try to be both proactive and reactive in addressing problems. We rely a lot on comment cards, online surveys and day-to-day interactions with students.”
p. Another resource for Dining Services is the Food Advisory Committee, which meets every three weeks to discuss comments and current trends and problems. Junior Janelle Richardson, a member of the food advisory committee, said that the committee members are responsible for assisting Dining Services in addressing food-related issues. “We generally brainstorm a lot of ideas,” she said. “Comments define a general need, but the committee and subcommittees build off them to create solutions.”
p. Richardson reiterated the point that lack of variety is the biggest problem. “The most general comment we get is requests for more vegetarian options,” she said.
p. DiBenedetto said that the best advice he can give is to speak up. “If students go to managers with issues, managers will respond. If you don’t see anything that fits your diet, let us know. If we can get it, we’ll get it for you — it’s that easy. There’s no secret.”
p. Smith, however, said that while asking for a special order is a nice idea, it isn’t practical. “It seems like a hassle. Someone has to go cook something special for you and you have to wait for it. That’s fine for a restaurant, but a cafeteria is about convenience; if it’s not convenient, people won’t use it.”
p. Richardson stressed that because the dining situation for vegetarians isn’t ideal, comments are heavily encouraged. “You have a voice,” she said. “If you have ideas and want to see changes, you have the power to try to get them implemented.”
p. DiBenedetto insists that Dining Services is always adjusting. Still, for vegetarians who continue purchasing meal plans, some degree of creativity at mealtime seems to be the name of the game.