The Chronicle’s View: Chartwells charts out

If nothing else, Chartwells at least affords unacquainted U students some common ground. Wherever you go, whomever you ask, pretty much everybody shares at least one qualm about the Union Food Court or the Heritage Center buffet in the Residence Halls.

Some degree of culinary discontent is to be expected at a large institution, but Chartwells management and the U administration should still be receptive to mounting student concerns. According to a recent survey by Compass Group Loyalty, student satisfaction with the U’s food services has fallen for the third consecutive year–by a dramatic margin.

Sadly, this news hardly portends change. Chartwells has little incentive for an extreme makeover. Even if legions of students march to University Street, or choose to pack lunches as an alternative source of midday sustenance, the Chartwells locations are busy enough thoroughfare to ensure that their lines are always full (and slow) during bustling lunch hours.

It doesn’t matter what they’re serving.

Worse still, the U’s policy of mandating meal plans is–quite literally–force-feeding students living in the Residence Halls. It’s virtually impossible for them to dine at home with guests on a regular basis, as few possess friends loyal enough to endure the substandard Heritage Center cuisine at such a steep price ($8). The circumstances help make the decision to move out of the Residence Halls easier for many U students.

In the survey, “taste of food” received one “excellent” at the Heritage Center–out of 193 surveyed–as did “frequency of menu changes.” Among the words used by survey respondents were “too dry,” “more plates,” “fresher ingredients,” “more variety,” “cooked bacon,” “dishes noticeably dirty,” “more meat,” “not raw” and “make food warmer.”

One student at the Heritage Center explained, “Basically, I’m just giving you free money.”

Echoing those fiscal concerns, a Union Food Court customer pleaded, “Lower the prices! We’re poor.”

The food court fared slightly better than the Heritage Center, but that’s not saying much.

“The veggie line is never busy–that should tell you something,” wrote one student.

Eating Pizza Hut is like having a trans-fat transplant. Prepackaged cold food is unappetizing. The only thing “fresh” about the sandwich ingredients is their spunky, carefree appearance.

So the ultimate question is: Will the Golden Rule prevail upon Chartwells management to do right by students? How can they be motivated to change without expecting financial windfalls?

Chartwells management responded to the survey by stating, “As we grow more loyal customers, the responses in these top two (‘excellent’ and ‘very good’) areas will grow.”

Hard to see where this increase in loyalty is going to come from. The quality of Chartwells’ food is substandard, and it has lost the trust of the student body. At this point, students are waiting for the E. Coli equivalent of Chernobyl to bring about a higher bidder.

As with other crucial areas of student interest–such as parking and health care–the U’s administration continues to skirt the issue of improving food services, choosing instead to perennially explore alternatives.

Hopefully, the advantages of having a well-fed student body will occur to Chartwells and/or administrators before long. Otherwise, we may begin to bite the hand that feeds us.