Call me a bit of an optimist (or a lunatic, depending on your perspective), but I’ve been mostly satisfied with my dining experience at Stony Brook thus far. Having arrived here in the fall of 2016, I came in fresh off the “food” they serve in the New York public school system without a clue of what dining was like prior to my arrival on campus. After that, anything seemed better than what I was used to eating. But even I have had to cringe after numerous disappointing encounters with rigid pasta, grainy tortillas, lifeless pork chops and other culinary disasters.
Thus, it goes without saying that Sodexo has failed to live up to my peers’ expectations more often than not this past semester. Complaints about overall food quality, variety, and cost are so frequent that the Faculty Student Association proposed to begin re-bidding for a new vendor back in January. In response, Sodexo scrambled to regain student trust with a number of additions and improvements to dine-in options around campus.
We should at least acknowledge some of these improvements.
Take International Night. Every Wednesday night this semester, a different dining hall swaps out their standard dinner menu for one inspired by the cuisine of a different country. Past offerings included savory duck confit potato hash on French Night, delectably sweet tres leche cake on Colombian Night or delightfully zesty cucumber salad on Indonesian Night.
There has been something new to discover at each and every venue. Virtually every International Night has been packed with students raring to have a taste of food from another country and in some cases, learn a little about a culture they may have paid little mind to. For instance, did you know that Turkey is home to two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?
On a more general note, all of the dining halls have had their menus and options tweaked as well. Ice cream and hot chocolate are now available daily at all dine-in locations, along with as a “bistro” option of soups, salads and sandwiches between 3 p.m. and 5:00 p.m..
The most drastic changes of all came to Roth Cafe. Breakfast options have been expanded to include frittatas, breakfast sandwiches and burritos, while fresh curly fries are served on Tuesdays and Thursdays for lunch and dinner. The brand new Simple Noodles station, which operates similarly to the Oodles retail vendor at the Student Activities Center, has been particularly popular with students. “I like how you can change it up depending on your mood,” said Alex Chen, a freshman mechanical engineering major, who visits the station twice a day. “Even though it’s the same thing, you can get a lot of variety out of it.”
The most exciting change to come to Roth is its Premium Night special. Every Thursday evening from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Roth offers a “premium” option along with its standard dine-in experience for an additional meal swipe or $9.95 and tax. These options usually consist of an expensive cut of meat along with optional sides, such as filet mignon with mixed vegetables and gravy. Although it initially had a lukewarm reception, the option has received more positive reviews since then. “It’s very good,” Vinnay Pillay, a freshman computer engineering major, said. “Way better than the usual food.”
Having tried all of these options myself, I have to agree. The filet mignon was tender, well-seasoned and bursting with flavor due to being cooked to a medium-rare, a far cry from the dry and over-salted burgers we receive on a daily basis.
But for all these improvements, there are still mountains of work to be done if Sodexo wants to enter Stony Brook’s good graces. Although Student Voice on Campus Dining has improved expectations for overall food quality on campus, many students remain unsatisfied. “Most students are just disappointed,” John Mele, senior biomedical engineering and applied math and statistics major, and student chair of Student Voice on Campus Dining, said. “They go into a dining hall hungry and they walk out feeling worse. It’s the food itself that they get by far.”
Food variety continues to be one of the most frequent complaints.
“I feel as though because I’m eating things, the same things, every day, everything has started to taste the same,” Michael Stavitsky, a graduate mechanical engineering student, said. Although the specials have been refreshingly novel to students, food variety outside of a select few options like East Side Dining’s Chef’s Kitchen tends to be lacking. Options are particularly scarce on weekends and during bistro time, with some stations failing to open at all during these times.
Ultimately, Sodexo has its work cut out for it if it wants to remain our food provider. Even with the improvements they’ve made this semester, our complaints against the company continue to pile up. But at the same time, we need to appreciate the options they have given us if we’re going to make the most of our time on campus.
So if you’re dissatisfied, get active and contact your local dine-in manager or FSA member about your complaints. Even if you aren’t, go ahead and try one of the specials we have on campus if you have the time. It’s your money and your time here at Stony Brook. It’s up to you to make the best of it.
Bon appétit, Seawolves.