When the newly renovated and expanded food service facility is completed next semester, students will experience a dining area that is more like home in many ways. And that’s exactly the feeling University of Iowa residence services staff are hoping to evoke.
“The generation in college now grew up going to malls and not having to share bedrooms,” says Greg Black, director of campus food services. “Now they’re out of their home environments and have to adapt. If we can at least make the food more comforting, more familiar, we will have gone a long way in easing the transition to college.”
One way the University is trying to ease that transition is by making Burge Market Place the physical and psychological center of the residence hall, just as the kitchen is the most popular gathering spot in most homes. A new dining area will open onto the Burge Residence Hall main lobby, cementing its status as a central place for students to relax, meet up with friends, and, of course, eat. New furniture will provide a variety of seating options—from bar-type stools for solo diners to large tables for groups.
Already, students have been dining in a renovated glass-lined room that faces the T. Anne Cleary Walkway.
“Atmosphere is so important,” says sophomore Kamie Stack. “It makes what you eat taste better. Now people choose to eat here even when they don’t have to.”
And then there’s the food.
Mirroring the popular Hillcrest Market Place, which opened in the west campus residence hall area in 2000, the Burge Market Place offers a variety of food stations for each meal. Choices range from grilled panini sandwiches to a “fresh Asian concepts” smorgasbord. Special gourmet salads, pasta, southwestern favorites, and vegan entrées round out the daily choices.
“Some of the classics are still here, like tater tot casserole,” says Anne Harkins, food service manager for Burge Market Place. Harkins and her colleagues stay in constant contact with students to make sure their needs are being met. An advantage to having central dining facilities is that special needs can be met efficiently. “Because we’re big, we can offer things like vegan options. We try to bring students into the process of choosing new menu options,” Harkins says.
“We really do listen to students—and they’re not inhibited about making comments,” says Black. “It’s important for us to stay current and competitive. Food service is such a huge component of customer satisfaction in the residence halls.”
Food service managers listen to parents, too.
“Occasionally parents do call us with questions,” Black says. Often, parents are concerned about special dietary needs and their students’ ability to maintain a balanced diet when faced with more choices than they had when they lived at home. Black and his colleagues are eager to help. “We have a dietitian on staff who can help students make healthy choices,” he says, and he encourages parents to tell their students to contact the food services staff if they’d like to work with the dietitian.
Another change in the way students dine at the University is the introduction of continuous service in both the Burge and Hillcrest Market Places. The dining areas are open from 6:45 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week (8 a.m.- 7 p.m. on Saturdays, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sundays) to accommodate students’ varied schedules.
“Hillcrest has seen more people coming in the off hours than I would have thought,” says Black. “We are busy right up until 7 p.m.”
The only hazard to providing such varied food choices and flexible meal times?
In the words of Burge patron Kamie Stack: “Now it’s going to be difficult to go home—all of a sudden I can’t eat whenever I want to.”
by Anne Remington