Dining Hall Administration Responds to Student Feedback

Photo by Veronica Brown '16 | Under new dining services director Andy Cox, Smith has enacted a plan to improve the dining services.

Maryellen Stohlman-Vanderveen ’19 Contributing Writer

Students may have noticed the comment boxes that were placed in each dining hall, a step that marks the beginning of Smith’s recently enacted plan to improve dining services.

Students may have also spoken to Andy Cox, Smith’s newly hired dining services director. Cox has been actively making improvements since coming to Smith and has been seen in the dining halls talking to students and staff about ways to improve Smith’s culinary infrastructure and culture.

The plan to improve Smith’s dining services began with Mike Howard, vice president of finance and administration, who started working at Smith just over a year ago.  His goal has been to increase customer service at the college through innovation, flexibility and transparency across administrative offices. As part of this goal, he hired Andy Cox as dining services director at the beginning of this year.

Cox worked previously at the Hotchkiss School, as well as at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and several Chicago restaurants including Blue Ginger. While at Hotchkiss, he oversaw a complete dining services revision program, and he is now heading Smith College’s Dining Services Strategic Planning Committee.

“I was able to design a program with clear goals for building community, increasing sustainability and operational excellence and see it though,” Cox said. “Smith has a very complex and diverse dining operation, so I spent my first six months getting to know everyone, reviewing budgets, policies, best practices and have been excited to make incremental changes for the upcoming semester.”

So far, these changes include the serving of oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs and bananas at breakfast every day. They have been well-received by students who like to have the option to take their breakfast on the go. In addition, new recipes have also been created and served.

“We put together a committee of over 20 people over J-term to increase our recipe repertoire,” Cox said. “As with any changes, training and practice for staff, coupled with diner feedback, will help decide what works, what doesn’t and what could work.

“I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the new meals,” said Linda Sbrega, a Cutter-Ziskind dining staff member. “But students always want more variety and longer hours.”

Most of the feedback coming from students so far has been requests for longer hours. Cox promises extended hours will be a part of the redesign going forward, though any change in meal times will not be feasible until next year. Cox also hopes to get the Smith College Dining app back up and running before spring break.

“Smith IT has never really supported this app, so I have gotten approval to solicit proposals from outside vendors to help develop a new one,” Cox said. “I am hoping to add a chance to rate meals, get better timing information, promote special events and provide more information about where our food comes from.”

Cox encourages students to reach out to him and the Planning Committee through whatever medium is easiest for them. The online survey will be available soon for student feedback. “I finally have all the staff and administrator names down,” he said. “I’m hoping to learn all the student names now, so join me for lunch.”