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September 17, 2008 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2008-09-17

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The University has never.made a top priority of catering to students' comfort.
But the competition for the hearts and minds of prospective students often
comes down to their stomachs



or the main course: apple and cran-
berry crepe flamb6 or braised beef
with root vegetables served in a
blueberry wine reduction. Then for des-
sert, chocolate zucchini cake or a slice of
pie made with fresh Maine blueberries.
Diners enjoy their meals atop rich
hardwood tables complete with cloth
napkins and vases filled with fresh flow-
ers from the school's garden. The floor-
to-ceiling windows look out to a campus
buzzing with activity.
These are the offerings of Thorne
Dining Hall at Bowdoin College in
Brunswick, Maine, a college cafeteria
that could be mistaken for a four-star
restaurant if it weren't for the twice-dai-
ly patronage of customers who pay with
their student ID cards.
Bowdoin has long been a leader in fine
cafeteria cuisine. The University of Mich-
igan hasnot. But Bowdoin's diningsystem
isn't just a gratuitous favor to its stu-
dents. Universities are funneling money
into deluxe amenities in the hopes that
plush dorm rooms will put them above
the competition in the hearts, minds and
stomachs of prospective students.
Any resident of Markley Residence
Hall could tell that the University has
never based its pride on its dining halls,
which provide waffle irons where Michi-
gan State University might place cinna-
mon bun chefs. But the recently opened
Hill Dining Center blows away the rest of
campus's cafeterias for atmosphere and
variety, suggesting the University admin-
istration has realized it has to play catch
up to stay competitive.
"It all points to national trends at
schools and colleges to provide more con-
temporary facilities, to meet the expecta-

the needs of future students," University
Housingspokesman Peter Logan said.
The Princeton Review surveys more
than 150,000 college students coast to
coast to monitor which campus's pizza
is cooked to perfection and which serves
mystery meat in the name of Salisbury
steak. While the University's dining sys-
tem isn't listed among the 20 worst, it's
definitely not among the 20 best, either.
Logan said the University's dining sys-
tem only aspires to keep up with the typi-
cal standard for campus eats.
"I wouldn't say that we're at the cut-
ting edge here, because there are some
universities and schools that have been
investing in their residential and dining
facilities sooner than we have," Logan
said. "I would say we're probably in the
middle of where universities are trying to
go in terms of providing more contempo-
rary residential and dining experiences."
Connected to the rear of Mosher-Jor-
dan Residence Hall, Hill Dining Center
features marketplace-style service sta-
tions, like a stone pizza oven and a wok
kitchen, two stories of seating and wall-
sized windows looking out to Palmer
Field. Resembling additions at University
of California at Los Angeles, Cornell Uni-
versity and the University of Notre Dame,
the $65 million project is the first cafete-
ria added to campus since Bursley Resi-
dence Hall opened in 1967.
The Hill Dining Center is the first piece
of the Residence Life Initiative, a plan
created in 2004 for a campus-wide face-
lift intended to provide students living on
campus a better quality of life. The next
phase of the plan will be realized when
the $175 million North Quad residence
hall opens in 2010. The new dorm will
have a similar marketplace style dining

hall and offer residents suite-style living.
According to some current students,
the ambience of the new diningcenter is a
big step forward, but the food - well, that
still leaves a little to be desired.
"It's a totally new building and totally
new everything here, and it almost feels
like you're in a restaurant, so when I
came here I was in that sort of mode,"
LSA sophomore Scott Templin said. "And
then I got my food and I was like 'Oh wait,
it's just dorm food,' so it's sort of a psycho-
logical effect."
But while brightly colored trays and
dishes, multi-level seating and natural
lighting add serious presentation points
to fresh rotisserie chickens and spinach
tofu, the important thing is how every-
thingtastes. Templin added that although
the selection is much larger, "the food is
just the same as most other (cafeterias)."
Stone-oven pesto pizza is a far cry from
what University upperclassmen remem-
ber of their dining hall experiences, but
the recipe for luring students with picky
pallets is far from perfect -- especially
when Virginia Tech University has New
order and a tank filled with whole Maine
lobsters available seven days a week.
Long before the University of Michi-
gan deigned to cater to students' com-
fort- with the Residence Life Initiative,
other universities were serving their
students restaurant cuisine on a Ramen
noodle budget.
Rick Johnson, director of dining ser-
vices at Virginia Tech, said students can
afford high-end eats because their meal
plans work like a debit card. Instead
of a set number of meals for the 18,500
students who elect to eat on-campus in
Blacksburg, Va., the system lets them,

Lindy Stevens
Daily Staff Writer
choose what they eat and how much they
fork over for food.
"What makes it a little bit different
from a traditional meal plan, is that we
capture up front some of our base costs
like utilities, salaries and debt service,"
Johnson said. "The only thing we don't
capture is the actual cost of the food."
So after covering a base rate of $760
per semester, students who opt for the
"mega flex plan" are left with $530 to
spend on everything from London broil
to hand rolled sushi --- and they don't
- pay anything more than the cost of the
ingredients. At J.P's Chop House, one
of the school's 11 dining centers, stu-
dents with a meal plan get a 50 percent
discount on dishes like sauteed salmon
or sea scallop provengale,.and items like
rib-eye steak sell for a market price of
about 82 cents an ounce.
That same discount applies at com-
mercial chains on campus, including Au
Bon Pain and Cinnabon. And for more
traditional cafeteria-style dining, the
deal gets even better with a 67 percent
discount for unlimited access to dishes
like chicken cacciatore, vegetable tem-
pura with steamed Japanese rice, and a
selection of cakes and tarts prepared by
the school's executive pastry chef.
"Students want healthy food, they
want fresh food, they want to see it pre-
pared to order and prepared in front of
them," Johnson said. "The old days of the
cafeteria where you made bulk food in
mass, in this huge kitchen, and brought it
out to the serving line are over and have
been over for a while."
Although Virginia Tech students
without a meal plan pay only cents less
than University students paying cash

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