The University of Rhode Island’s Dining Services has incorporated various changes and procedures in the dining halls in order to conserve product, minimize waste, and keep its customers happy.
Students around campus have noticed that some of the stations in Hope Commons have closed earlier than their designated times. This is due to the addition of food features that require a longer time to clean up and break down, like additional toppings at Astro’s, and making special noodles twice a week.
Rhody Market’s new hours also contribute to dining stations closing early. Steven Mello, the Director of Dining Services, said, “We try to look at the big picture, like what do students want. One of the things we did the semester was we made Rhody Market combos available until 11. It used to only be until 10 o’clock.”
Rhody Market is a controlled environment that generally has less waste than both Butterfield and Hope Commons. In the last few hours before the dining hall closes, the chefs are constantly checking to see how many new customers have arrived. This allows them to gauge how much food they need to prepare so they don’t cook more food than is needed. Having the dining stations close earlier than normal helps solve this problem as well.
“The good thing is that…I’m not throwing too many individual pizzas away. That’s much easier for me to control,” Mello said.
Mello has statistics that support his belief that student needs are still being met even with some of the food stations closing early. Dining hall peak times are between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., and at this time, 300-500 students will enter the dining hall to eat. Within the last half hour before the dining hall closes, 150-250 students will enter, less than 10 percent of the total amount of students that eat in the dining hall per day. Between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., 200-400 students will eat at Rhody Market.
Even with the extension of Rhody Market’s hours, it is still difficult to minimize and control waste.
“When you have a type of service that you build for students to add more and more variety, it becomes harder to control,” Mello said. “In the old days there was two entrees, a starch, and a vegetable, maybe a salad bar, and ham and turkey to make sandwiches. It was much easier to control. Each dining hall served the same things. Now we make different menus in different places, plus the Grab ‘n’ Go’s.”
When making decisions on the type and quantity of food to order, Dining Services refers to various reports. These reports dictate what food is ordered for the upcoming semester.
“We forecast how much to make of something, mainly in homestyle,” Mello said. “We try to record if we have leftovers, how much, if we ran out, what time, what did we substitute for it, and what other item it was served with.”
To a certain extent, the type of station in the dining halls dictates the amount of waste. Made-to-order stations such as Fusion or the Burrito station at Hope, and assemble-to-order stations like the deli or salad bar create less waste than the homestyle stations. The chefs at these types of stations can learn how much food to prepare on a certain day to sustain students and cut down on waste, unlike the chefs at homestyle stations who are constantly changing their menu and are unsure of the amount its customers will eat.
“Because we don’t stay stagnant in our menu, we are challenging ourselves all the time to make the right amount, to try to minimize the waste,” Mello said. “It’s hard. We are adding notes to our menus now. Sometimes when you get a whole different class [and] they don’t like the things another group liked last year and it just happens…just when we think we have it all figured out on how much to make, we have to change it all up.”
Mello urges students to do their part in helping reduce waste. Anyone placing food on the conveyor belt would see a combination of plates, some empty and others full of uneaten food. Mello wants students to take what they want to eat, and eat what they take.
“In the future we’re going to look into things like composting on campus. Our oil is used for fuel, so we are trying to do more things like that,” Mello said. “The new Vice President, Cathy Collins, we are going to sit down with her and discuss a plan for sustainability, and we want to move forward on that…our goal is to try and conserve and minimize the leftover incident.”