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Dining in Community: Recommendations

A group of students gathered around a table of snacks

In May 2019, the Residential Experience Working Group submitted its initial report on dining in community to President McCartney and the board of trustees. The report outlined recommendations on improving community within Smith’s dining system to positively impact a student’s ability to engage with communities college-wide and feel a sense of belonging.

At its October 2019 meeting, the board of trustees approved moving forward with a technical feasibility study that would identify options for improved dining and operational enhancements.

Theme 1: Food

Access, eating patterns and accommodations

In the past, dining was instrumental in bringing everyone together. Now, for a variety of reasons, Smith's existing dining options have become less effective in creating community. In fact–due to personal tastes, student schedules and dietary restrictions (e.g., gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, kosher, halal, etc.)–students may need to pick up food from various dining locations on campus.

Recommendations

  • Study ways to better meet student dietary requirements and preferences.
  • Provide more menu and snack options within each dining location.
  • Improve food quality through training opportunities and/or centralized food preparation.
  • Increase programming around wellness and nutrition.
  • Increase dining hours to accommodate student schedules. 
College Hours of Hot Entrees Served Per Day
Smith 6 hours
Amherst 13 hours
Mount Holyoke 15.75 hours
Wesleyan 16.25 hours

These case studies draw from multiple student experiences provided during the REWG’s work. They are meant to represent actual challenges faced by Smith students today as they navigate the dining experience. 

Case Study 1: Cannoli

A group of friends eat dinner together every week after a study group session. They base their weekly choice of dining room on the multiple menu choices available across 15 locations.

One week, mini cannoli (a student favorite) are on the dessert menu at three of the 12 dining rooms serving dinner that evening. The study group chooses Lamont House, one of the three serving cannoli.

Dozens of other groups have made the same decision, and there’s a rush on Lamont at 5:30. Dessert quickly runs out, and the kitchen staff hurries to prepare more, resulting in a long line of students. Meanwhile, other dining halls are faced with overproduction and significant waste.

Smith College wastes more food per student per year than any of its peers who track compostable waste by student per academic year. 

Case Study 2: Cast and Crew

As students find affinity beyond their house, they seek to (as Smith students always have) dine in community. Members of a theater production, seeking to eat together after rehearsal, must balance the cast and crew’s needs against the college’s offerings. For example: On this production, two members are vegan; one seeks a Halal menu, another a Kosher menu, and a fifth requires a gluten-free option. No single dining location will meet these needs, and the group is unable to dine together.

Under Smith’s distributed dining system, individual—but not all—dining locations can meet various dietary accommodations. Some are restricted—Dawes, for example, is only open to students with gluten sensitivities. 

Case Study 3: Teamwork

A Smith athletics team holds practices after class, often ending around 6 p.m. By the end of practice, students must either rush to the dining hall of their choice (most close at 7 p.m.) or eat at Tyler, the only dining hall open until 8:30 p.m. Tyler, though, cannot accommodate all dietary needs. 

The same team often travels for games, returning to campus in the late afternoon or evening. As there is no food service between 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.—or after 7 p.m. (except Tyler), teams are forced to go off-campus for post-game meals. The athletics department often accommodates this by purchasing food that meets the needs of the entire team on the way home. Repeated across multiple teams on a regular basis, this leads to overproduction of food on campus, an additional cost for the athletics department, and lack of opportunity for athletes to dine in the community of their choice. 

Smith College serves six hours of hot entrees per day—far fewer than its peers. Amherst, for example, serves 13 hours of hot entrees per day; Mount Holyoke serves nearly 15 hours; and Wesleyan more than 16 hours.


Theme 2: Accessibility

Even though dining room entrances are ADA compliant, dining areas may not be; students may not be able to navigate within the dining areas due to crowding and physical accessibility of serving areas.

Recommendations

  • Increase accessibility in dining areas (e.g., service counter height and depth)

Theme 3: Sustainability

Smith College wastes more food per student per year than any of its peers who track compostable waste by student per academic year. 

Recommendations

  • Study opportunities for centralized food preparation and storage.
  • Review ways to reduce food waste.
College Food Waste Per Student, Per Year
Smith 238 pounds
UMass Amherst 225 pounds
Mount Holyoke 224 pounds
Average 141 pounds
Wesleyan 96 pounds
Tufts 92 pounds

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is Smith consolidating its dining operations? 
A: The college is not making any immediate changes to its dining operations. The technical feasability study will inform any potential change. 

Q: What is the technical feasibility study?
A: The technical feasibility study is a consultant-led study of Smith’s physical dining locations, equipment and operations to determine potential enhancements.  

Q: Why has Smith engaged a consultant to review its dining operations? 
A: The college is committed to ensuring that its residential experience meets the needs and expectations of current and future students. These include accessibility, quality, choice and the opportunity to live and dine in community. 

The consultant’s work is a result of the the Residential Experience Working Group’s examination of “How Smith, as an educational institution and a residential college, can most effectively optimize the potential of living and dining in community, in order to create an inclusive learning environment for all students.”

Q: What are Smith's current dining operations?
A: Smith currently has 15 dining rooms served by 12 residential kitchens. Across all meals and locations in a standard week, the college operates 181 individual meal periods.

Students with dietary restrictions are served by individual dining rooms:

  • Cutter/Ziskind is Kosher and Halal (served by separate kitchens)
  • Dawes is gluten-free (students must be registered with the Office of Disability Service to access Dawes)
  • Lamont is peanut-, tree nut-, shellfish-, fish- and sesame-free
  • Northrop/Gillett is vegan and vegetarian
  • Wilson will transition to vegan and vegetarian on December 1, 2019.

Q: Are there any current plans to either close or open new dining areas?
A: No.

238

pounds of food waste per student, per year, on average—higher than UMass, Mount Holyoke and other colleges

6

hours of hot entrees served at Smith per day—far fewer than Amherst, Mount Holyoke and other colleges

$654K

The value of the food wasted at Smith per year, based on the EPA’s estimated value of $1.17 per pound of food waste

90%

The percentage of students who eat breakfast and lunch in just 6 of the 15 available dining locations