At Issue: Dining at Sarah Lawrence
Students have been eating in Bates ever since Sarah Lawrence College opened in 1928. But this fall, things are different. For the first time in 38 years, a new company is dishing out the victuals. “It’s a strange thing to sit in Bates and hear students talk about how good the food is,” says Isaac Krasny ’11, who helped choose the new vendor. Here, we take a look inside the renovated facilities.
Entering Bates Common Dining on a crisp fall afternoon, students are greeted by the scent of baking cookies. The newly painted dining room looks autumnally fresh. This is definitely not the same, old Bates. But how did it get this way?
Last year the College’s contract with its longtime food service provider, FLIK, was up for renewal. The kitchen and dining hall had not been remodeled in 35 years. Students were concerned about food quality and clamored for more choices. A committee of students, faculty, and staff evaluated proposals from several companies, and a new vendor, AVI Fresh, came out as the clear favorite and was awarded a five-year contract.
AVI Fresh overhauled the facilities, bringing the majority of the cooking equipment out of the kitchen to the main floor. A rotisserie, two ovens, a six-burner sauté, a flat-top grill, and steamers are all visible to diners. Instead of preparing huge quantities of food and keeping it under heat lamps, cooking is now done in smaller batches, which not only keeps food fresher, but also prevents waste. Resident Dining Director Christopher Stragisher explains that the back kitchen is now used primarily for prep work.
Perhaps the most obvious change for returning students, however, is what Stragisher calls “destination dining.” Instead of forming a single cafeteria line, the new serving area is divided into separate stations, each featuring a different type of food. LCD screens above each station announce the menu, which changes daily. At the pasta station, the screen advertises cavatelli with sausage and broccoli. The popular grill station offers made-to-order hamburgers and veggie burgers. A “home style” station specializes in comfort food like potatoes au gratin and homemade meatballs. At the center of the main room is a generous salad bar with a variety of toppings. Other stations offer international food, gourmet pizza, sandwiches, and freshly baked desserts—the origin of the tantalizing cookie smell. In addition, ice cream is now available at all times.
Another major change is that the health food bar adjacent to Bates Common Dining is no more. Vegetarian options are available at most of the stations in the main dining hall, as well as at an island that features vegan cuisine. (Recent offerings included roasted root vegetables, garlic spinach, and vegetable and tofu curry.) In place of the health food bar is Bates2Go, a combination takeout joint and convenience store. Here students can get a roll of paper towels, a box of pasta to cook in their dorm room, and a fresh fruit smoothie all at the same place.
Dane Kilner, a first-year from San Francisco, says he’s impressed by the variety of choices. “I’ve heard of college food as being just slop, so coming here and seeing all the different options is amazing.”
After more than three decades, changing food service providers is no small task. The renovations took longer than anticipated, and for the first week of school students dined under a tent on Westlands Lawn. Stragisher emphasizes that the new dining services are still evolving. “We encourage feedback, and we respond as quickly as possible,” he says. Just a few weeks into the semester, the company started providing soy milk and added more protein-filled ingredients at the salad bar in response to requests. Student concerns about limited seating prompted an arrangement where overflow at dinner can now be directed to the faculty dining room. “It’s a good problem to have, that so many students now want to eat here,” Stragisher says.
Bates isn’t the only place that has been revamped. At the Pub, booths have replaced some of the tables, and food is ordered through the cashier, like at a chain restaurant. The ordering system caused some confusion at first, but the process seems to have smoothed out. The menu now features artisan sandwiches from roast beef to tofurkey.
Despite all the choices on campus, however, a classic item reigns supreme. When asked what they liked best about the new food options, most students mentioned the hamburger.