Campus Dining improves data on student dietary preferences

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Campus Dining conducted a four-day survey last week to collect data on student eating preferences. Campus Dining officials plan to use the results, along with sales data, to help shape future menus and decide which food items to stock at the Marketplace, Tiger Cooler, Coffee Cart and Green Bean.

“We have never been able to figure out exactly what student diets are like, and this survey will really help,” Associate Vice President for Hospitality Services Amy Muñoz said.

Campus Dining began planning the survey last September in conjunction with the Campus Dining working group. The working group is a subset of the Campus Dining committee that meets monthly to discuss the foods offered to students at each of the on-campus dining venues. The group is comprised of various individuals from across the Occidental community, including faculty, Campus Dining staff, students on each of the four meal plans (A, B, C and D), off-campus students and student-athletes. Student representatives from the Office of Student Life, Associated Students of Occidental College, VegHeads Club and Green Bean are also represented in the working group.

Alongside Muñoz, the group has been working to craft the survey to be easy for students to answer and dining staff to administer. During check-out at each dining location on campus, computer notifications prompted staff members to ask students about their dietary preferences and have them answer with one of six options: vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, no red meat, omnivore and no response. These options were chosen by the VegHead members, who were able to narrow down the list to the most common dietary preferences.

Muñoz reported a response rate of over 50 percent from students within the first day of the survey.

Campus Dining Marketing Intern and biochemistry major Matt Ginley-Hidinger (junior) explained that this survey will be useful to both Campus Dining and to students. Students are able to express their dietary preferences and Campus Dining is able to hear from students beyond those who use the online suggestion box. The suggestion box allows students to propose any ideas of foods to be served, and Campus Dining staff review suggestions at the end of each week.

“There is a major disconnect between what Campus Dining is trying to do and what students want,” Ginley-Hidinger said. “We get a lot of suggestions, but we don’t hear from everyone on campus, so this is an easy way to get everyone involved.”

Muñoz stressed the amount of research and data that goes into planning the dining menus. While Muñoz anticipates this survey will be helpful for Campus Dining, it is still just another piece of data to consider along with seasonality of foods, weather shifts, holidays and on-campus events.