Dining Services expands dining options with new restaurants
Dining is an integral part of every student’s Carnegie Mellon experience. On campus, there are a variety of dining options, partly thanks to the new initiatives put in place by Dining Services. These include the opening of new restaurant locations on campus, the launch of a new interactive, mobile-friendly web interface, and initiatives to make dining a safe and smooth experience for people with allergies and special dietary needs.
In an interview with the Tartan, Pascal Petter, the Director of Dining, said that the opening of new locations such as iNoodle and Au Bon Pain matched the goals as outlined by Dining Services in its strategic plan and coincided with the university’s initiative to expand the Cohon Center. “Both of these dining locations allowed us to create healthier, engaging, and interactive venues,” Petter said. “We also saw this as an opportunity to look at the Skibo Café, because it was such a large dining location, to renovate the space altogether and to make it part of the Cohon Center expansion.” The University’s renovation initiative at the Cohon Center led Dining Services to push the timeline of the Skibo Café renovation up so that the two projects could proceed at the same time.
Another major goal of these new dining initiatives is to promote better health and wellbeing, says Mandi Semple, the Director of Marketing for Student Affairs Operations at Carnegie Mellon. “The expansion in general was focusing on wellness and fitness, and performance with studio theater,” says Semple. One of the newer on-campus locations to offer healthy choices is Au Bon Pain, which opened in May 2016. For Semple, and other members of Dining Services, having a concept that offers healthy options such as soups or smoothies, was important.
This autumn, iNoodle, located in Newell-Simon Hall, is a new presence on campus. iNoodle occupies the location formerly held by Mitchell’s, a deli, whose head has since semi-retired. Dining Services was then faced with the decision of doing something new with the space, which is when, according to Petter, “[they] decided to make it an authentic Asian concept.” iNoodle has different kinds of ramen and a create-your-taste ramen deli, as well as sides ranging from dumplings to sesame pancakes to hash browns on its menu.
The renovation and expansion required a half-year-long Request for Proposal (RFP) process, during which the University put out its goals for the project and different companies submitted proposals to meet these goals.
During the renovation process, a major challenge faced by Dining Services was seating. Many students prefer to work on homework and get their meals in the Cohon Center, meaning that the seating areas throughout the building were full most of the time. Semple says that they ended up adding around 30 seats during the renovation period to accommodate students’ needs and preferences.
Healthy dining is not the only goal in the revamping of the old Skibo Café, which now houses Au Bon Pain. “It’s a great gathering place, where students can socialize and interact with each other,” Petter said. There are collaborative spaces and seating areas there that are open 24 hours a day where students can meet to socialize and study. Paper is even provided for students to take notes on.
Besides physical renovation, there are a host of new web-based initiatives to make the Dining Services website more interactive and more mobile-friendly. Semple said that about 70 percent of people who visit the Dining Services website go to the page with information on the various locations, menus, and dining hours. Not only has the website been updated to be easier to use on mobile devices, there are also new features such as color codes that tell the viewer whether a location is open or closed, date range searches that allow the viewer to see what is open well in advance of the date, searches by building or by services like online catering, and maps that show GPS coordinates. There is also a direct link to the nutrition calculator which is another aspect of the focus on health and well-being.
In addition to increasing dining variety, Dining Services recently hired Jessica Tones as a Registered Dietitian, Nutrition Educator and Marketing Coordinator as part of an initiative to facilitate the dining experience for students with allergies and other special dietary needs. Students with multiple or severe allergies go through Health Services first to figure out the best accommodations. Students who have less severe allergies or just a single allergy can use the Nutrition Calculator, which lists common allergens in the menu items. Students can also always request an allergy sheet from any of the dining locations. “Our goal is to improve that communication and tailor our menus and our concepts moving forward for students [with special dietary needs],” said Tones.
Dining Services’ new initiatives reflect the extent of the needs and diversity of Carnegie Mellon students and staff regarding varying tastes and preferences. They also reflect a response to the national conversation about healthy eating to promote the wellbeing of the campus community.