The top 2 campus dining halls—and what every school can learn from them

Emily Arnim, staff writerEmily Arnim, Staff Writer

Each year, the Princeton Review releases an annual survey asking students to rate schools in 62 categories, including best party school, best college newspaper, most beautiful campus—and best campus food.

And each year, two colleges—University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Bowdoin College—compete to win the best campus food category. As an amateur chef myself, I wanted to find out how these schools snatch the top spots year after year—and why having the best campus food matters.

For the third consecutive year, UMass Amherst took home the win for best campus food. "It speaks highly of our program and the passion of our staff in serving healthy, sustainable and delicious food, one meal at the time," says Ken Toong, the executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises at UMass. "We're serving more than just food, we strive to create memorable dining experiences and to enrich the quality of campus life."

In a press release, UMass touts its abundance of healthy food options "created by award-winning chefs," and describes mouthwatering meals, like the James Beard Foundation Award-winning mushroom blended chicken tikka slider and the sushi rolls handcrafted each day by student staff.

Extreme makeover: Dining hall edition

Bowdoin, which earned the No. 2 spot on this year's Princeton Review ranking, also consistently earns high marks for its campus food. Bowdoin's dining site describes its "diverse and changing menu," comprised of "carefully sourced" ingredients. Similar to the meals at UMass Amherst, meals at Bowdoin support local, organic food vendors; meals are crafted from "local, grass-fed beef" and seasonal "vegetables, fruits, and herbs that are grown at the Bowdoin Organic Garden."

But why does having the best food matter?

Investing in auxiliary services—like campus dining—can provide colleges with an additional source of revenue. "The majority of non-athletic auxiliary units generate enough revenue to cover their own costs and debt service," writes John Workman, a facilities and business affairs expert at EAB. "And many of these units return a portion of surplus revenue to central administration."

UMass Dining employs student workers, a tactic that EAB research suggests decreases operating costs and increases revenue. And Bowdoin's organic food options have revenue potential, as offering organic options "tap[s] into student philosophical interest and health-related willingness to pay extra."

Having the best food also matters because, well, students want good food. Students surveyed for Technomic's 2017 College & University Consumer Trend Report indicated that they would be more likely to purchase a meal plan if their campus served better-tasting food (41%), higher quality food (40%), and healthier options (32%).

Case in point: UMass Amherst. UMass is home to the largest college dining services operation in the United States, and serves roughly 5.5 million meals each year. And since 1999, the number of students participating in the university's meal plan has more than doubled, from 8,300 students to 19,200 students—thanks, in part, to the college's high-quality food (Bowdoin Dining site, accessed 9/21; FSD Staff, Food Service Director, 7/15/17; UMass Amherst press release, 8/6).


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