Pacers Critique Campus Dining

By Makayla Cook

A piece of metal in a burger, moldy pieces of fruit and bread, and fried chicken with a feather in it are all controversial images students have taken of various disastrous food mishaps at William Peace University’s Belk Dining Hall, provided by Sodexo.

With the worries around the “freshman 15” and young adults struggling to make nourishing dietary decisions, some students on the WPU campus find it challenging to fulfill their needs. Outside of themed meals such as fried chicken Wednesdays, Taco Tuesdays, and occasional steak dinners, students are sometimes disappointed with the quality and variety of food offered.

“Tragic,” “confusing,” “disappointing,” “poor quality,” and “not really worth it,” were all words students used to describe Belk dining hall in interviews. Some athletes were concerned about finding healthy food options to support their active lifestyles. Vegans and vegetarians also struggle to find tasty and sustainable food to eat. 

In an unofficial online survey conducted by The Peace Times staff, 95.5% of the 67 students who responded indicated that food quality and variety needs the most attention and improvement; the other options were staff and food service personnel (friendliness and helpfulness), ambiance, and cleanliness. 

In addition, 70.1% said that they feel they aren’t getting their money’s worth and 61.2% wouldn’t recommend Belk dining to other students.

While these results may seem shocking, a recent study discovered that not a lot of college students actually enjoy the food they’re served on their campuses.

According to research on college campuses published in 2020 by the International Hospitality Review, “only 34 percent expressed overall satisfaction with their on-campus dining facilities, ultimately impacting their dining frequency.” 

The report goes on to say that “on-campus foodservice providers will need to recognize their consumers’ behavior” and put in the extra effort in order to satisfy those who dine with them.

In the Peace Times survey, students suggested multiple ways of increasing food quality and variety, and at times claimed to have suffered food poisoning after dining at Belk. 

Illustration by Jacob Trump

Lochlyn Gamble, a junior communication major, said he experienced some food that was less than ideal quality.

“I think a higher level of quality control should be used since mold and stale food is served on occasion,” said Gamble.

Adam Finkelstein, a sophomore theatre major, has been keeping a detailed food journal tracking all of his opinions of the food. He posts some of the meals that aren’t up to his standards on social media, tagging various WPU-affiliated accounts including @wpeaceu and @wpeaceuprez.

Screenshot of review entry from Adam Finkelstein

In one entry, from steak night on Feb. 14, he wrote, “If you had this type of quality consistently instead of only on special occasions, there wouldn’t be an issue with the dining hall.” 

Recently, Finkelstein hasn’t been the only one using social media to voice his concerns. First-year musical theatre major Justin Fuko became somewhat famous around the WPU campus for his comment to the Belk dining Instagram account. 

Fuko voiced his opinion that having to pay an extra $7, along with using a swipe, for steak night was unreasonable. 

The @pacerdining account replied, saying.  “Our goal is to offer high quality & affordable menu items for each event. However, as food costs are ever-changing there may be times that additional fees are necessary to meet the expectations for events such as Steak Night.”

 Fuko replied: “‘high quality’ should be your goal for EVERY meal. Maybe focus on that first, before overcharging students at a dining hall that they already pay way too much for.”  The comment received 25 likes in addition to being reposted and praised by several other students. 

Screenshot from @pacerdining Instagram taken by Makayla Cook

Teresa Ratcliff, Belk Dining’s General Manager, understands that not everyone can afford to indulge in the special events, noting that these events are optional and that food from the regular menu is available to those who don’t want to spend the extra money. A fee to cover these events is necessary because Sodexo is unable to offer items such as crab legs or steak on their daily menu.

According to student interviews and the survey taken, the staff in Belk dining hall are far from the issue. A pleasant 71.7% of students that answered the survey rated their encounters with staff and food service personnel in the dining hall as either a 4 or 5 (out of 5). Individuals like Chef Ghana Garland were among students’ top compliments in regard to their dining experience. 

“For the tens of thousands I spend here at peace I should expect that some of the money goes to people who can actually solve these issues themselves,” said Fuko. “The staff is amazing but they are given so little to work with food-wise. We really need to sit down and get new meal services because I will not continue my time here at peace if I’m gonna be stuck eating this food every day for the next 3 years of my life.”

Sous chef Ghana Garland – commonly referred to as “Pops” – enjoys interacting with students and getting to know them personally during his workdays. He understands the concerns of the students and works towards getting them resolved the best he can.

Garland, a chef for seven years, encourages students to come to him or other Belk dining personnel with these issues instead of discussing them amongst themselves.

“I always tell them, look, this is a family. If you have a situation or if you’re just shy or you feel like, ‘oh I don’t wanna bother them,’ we’re here to provide a quality service,” he says. “We’re here for y’all.”

In addition to approaching staff, Sodexo leaves comment cards in the dining hall in order for students to give staff shout-outs, voice their complaints, and make suggestions.

As students tackle busy schedules they may neglect to notice the small changes that are made to accommodate their issues or suggestions. Recently, pizza sauce has begun to be made from scratch, along with homemade ranch, and the new grill addition: the smashburger. 

“Whatever it is they don’t like, we try to change it as fast as we can and in the most timely manner possible,” said Garland. “It may take us a few days to get it right so it’s always reassuring the staff or the students that we’re not ignoring their requests for change.”

“We try as hard as we can to create a space to where whatever your complaint is to let y’all know that you’re being heard.”

Even though there is an overwhelming amount of negative feedback regarding Belk, there are some students who enjoy the food that’s served.

Haley Henderson, a senior leadership and nonprofit management major, feels that the quality of the food is good but the price isn’t worth it. Since Henderson is a commuter that lives an hour away from WPU, she didn’t feel spending the extra money on a meal plan was worth it. 

However, on the few occasions that she did dine at Belk, she was forced to pay the guest fee of $10, no matter how much or little she gets. 

“It seems kind of expensive, so I usually try to go somewhere else like I go to the grocery store up the road or something,” said Henderson. “I kind of feel like, when I come here, I don’t really get the $10 worth that I have to spend since I don’t have a meal card.” 

Ratcliff acknowledges the concerns with variety but also wants students to know that the pandemic has presented challenges for university dining, with substitutions becoming common when items she has ordered are unavailable. 

“Just recently our supplier had to send us 12-inch sub rolls because they did not have 6-inch sub rolls, so we cut them in half,” she said. 

The one and only dining hall on the campus has stations for coffee/tea/cereal, beverages, waffles, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza, grilled items, and the main dish for the day. Students that reside on campus are required to purchase a meal plan, the cheapest option being $1,980/semester. Conversely, commuters have the option of purchasing a meal plan, ranging from $200-$1730/semester, or declining to do so.

Ratcliff said more variety is planned for the dining hall soon. Some of the new additions include a panini press, stir fry, and noodle bowls. 

The menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – or brunch and dinner for the weekends – is available on the WPU Sodexo website or Bite app for students to make sure there’s something available for them to eat before going. There is also information on each food item indicating calorie count and allergens. 

Ratcliff encourages students to check the menu before dining and if they do have allergies to contact herself or Chef James to make personalized arrangements for meals. In addition, students should inform dining hall personnel as soon as possible if they have concerns about food not being cooked properly or sanitation concerns. 

“I would encourage students to make one of my staff members or myself aware of those types of issues at that time, so we can access and take necessary measures needed to correct the situation,” said Ratcliff, “If there is an issue with quality, please let us know immediately and we can correct it and offer a solution right away.”

Sodexo is said to continue working with WPU’s Student Government and Planning Association (SGPA) in order to satisfy students and fulfill their dining wants and needs. Students will remain to voice their opinions on the dining hall until they are met with satisfactory conditions. Change on WPU’s campus can only be made as a collective and Pacers are doing just that.

Click here to view Teresa Ratcliff’s full response.

Wordcloud of words from student survey using WordClouds by Makayla Cook. Videos by Khalil Tompkins.