In the list of things college students worry about, classes, clubs and homework all take a backseat to one other activity: mealtime.
Students take their dining experiences very seriously. Sodexo, Augustana’s dining partner and supplier, realizes this. Every year, twice a year, Sodexo distributes a survey to Augustana students in order to receive feedback on the program they are running.
Originally, surveys were distributed and collected by Augustana Dining Services staff, but “some people said they felt uncomfortable turning in a survey to one of the management,” general manager Craig Pearson said.
Augustana Student Association (ASA) heard similar concerns voiced at a meeting amongst senators according to junior Matt Anderson.
Anderson is the convener of the Dining Services Task Force, a 15-member group often fondly referred to as the Kitchen Cabinet. These students work with Dining Services chefs and managers to ensure dining interactions are positive for both parties, a relationship that Anderson says works well.
“I know that I can go straight to dining services and bring up an idea, and know it will be taken seriously,” Anderson said.
The student satisfaction survey, administered at lunchtime, made students who had back-to-back classes feel rushed, as if they had no fair chance to take the survey and respond thoughtfully. Furthermore, students who live on the North side of campus also did not pass in front of the mail boxes on their way to eat, and therefore were not as represented in the survey as other groups of students. Anderson echoed Pearson’s concern: handing in a survey to management can sway survey results for students who wish the survey to remain confidential. “We wanted to minimize the feeling of any bias given off by
Dining Services,” Anderson said. ASA took over the distribution of surveys. The surveys were also given at supper instead to give more students a better chance to respond, and with better accuracy.
“The more you’re able to take away any suspicion of bias, the more comfortable the test-taker is,” dean of students Jim Bies said.
Pearson is fine with this new arrangement. He said the money it took to have the survey printed and tabulated is not being put to good use if the survey is not bringing in accurate results. The reason management involved themselves in the survey process was because “the survey does not give us enough information,” Pearson said.
For instance, if a student indicates that he or she wishes for healthier food, “what does that mean?” Pearson asked. Does it mean more vegetarian options? Does it mean more salad bar choices? “Whenever possible, we try to accommodate the requests,” Pearson said. “You’re the ones paying the money for [the food]. It is the students’ meal plan.”
Augustana hopes to receive more feedback from students by adding Augustana-specific questions to the survey, said Bies, who supervises Augustana’s Dining Services.
“The survey gives us options to look at what’s happening and how to adjust,” he said.
Overall, Pearson said survey results did not change much from fall to spring, despite the change in distribution techniques. Ninety-three percent of students in both the fall and spring replied that dining services is “responsive to student requests” with a “good,” “very good,” or “excellent” response.
The overall satisfaction of students increased from 87 to 92 percent from fall to spring, an increase that Pearson attributes to a better student understanding for the new meal plan.
All things considered, the surveys are meant to be a tool.
“It’s our program,” Anderson said. “At the end of the day, the student is the customer.”
Pearson agrees. “We’re open to run it every way the college and students want to, because it’s your program,” he said.
Students with questions on survey results are welcome to visit Pearson in his Dining Services office. Students with comments about Dining Services in general are invited to contact Anderson or to attend a Dining Service Task Force meeting to broach their topic for discussion.