Dining commits to improving food quality amidst student complaints

Students dissatisfied with food quality, variety, but optimistic about changes

After one month on campus, student opinions on dining have been mixed to negative. Students cited poor food quality and lack of variety, particularly at the beginning of the semester. In response to negative student feedback, MIT Dining has committed to improving food quality and increasing options for students with dietary restrictions.

MIT Dormitory Council (DormCon) Dining Chairs Shaida Nishat ’22 and Duha Syar ’23 wrote in an email to The Tech that “there have been concerns with a lack of variety and an overall decline in quality.” However, “MIT is providing for a lot of people under a greater number of health and safety restrictions due to the pandemic.” 

Starting Sept. 29, MIT Dining began cooking in dorm kitchens for dinner instead of at a centralized location in an effort to improve freshness and quality. Previously, all food was prepared in Maseeh, Baker, and McCormick. Dining also recognizes that “meals have been repetitive,” and is “working on increasing variety across the week,” Nishat and Syar wrote.

They wrote that currently, over half of the options for any meal are vegetarian, “with a good portion being vegan, on any given day.” In addition, MIT Dining offers meals prepared in its “Oasis” kitchen without the eight major allergens. However, some students have reported “shortcomings” in accommodations for other dietary restrictions, Nishat and Syar wrote, adding that they have been “advocating for changes” to better accommodate other diets. 

They wrote that food delivery had been on time. They added that while the GET meal-ordering app does not always reflect the meals served, MIT Dining will resolve this issue “soon.”

Belinda Shi ’21 wrote in an email to The Tech that her dining experience has been “generally unfavorable,” adding that “the range of foods hasn't been great, and sometimes the quality can be really bad.” She wrote that while she does not have dietary restrictions, she wishes that she “had more options, or at least a fallback option” if she does not “like the main dish.” She also added that lunch in the Stratton Student Center has been “good” recently, but brunch “has been of questionable quality.”

Many students were unhappy about being served chicken for five consecutive days during Q-week, Shi wrote. Thomas Adebiyi ’21 echoed this point, writing in an email to The Tech that he was served “nearly a week” of “chicken variants for dinner.”

Adebiyi wrote that food quality has been inconsistent, with “a few good days and a few really bad days,” adding that breakfast options have been limited.

Adebiyi added that he is lactose intolerant and “it’s annoying when they throw cream or cheese on top of an otherwise enticing entree.” 

Omkar Ghenand ’23 wrote in an email to The Tech that the vegetarian options were initially very limited, but that the variety of options had improved over time, and Dining now often has an “extra vegetarian dish.” However, “improvements are still needed.”

Ghenand expressed frustration at meat being added to dishes that would otherwise be vegetarian, such as pasta, writing that “it’s not that hard to just make another container of pasta without the meat.” On one occasion, “vegetarian pasta” was placed in the same container as chicken parmesan.

Ghenand also wrote that the quality of food has been “quite poor,” with many meals undercooked or overcooked. As a result, he has spent “upwards of $40 a week” on food outside MIT “to substitute for the poor dining hall food.”

A subgroup of the MIT Undergraduate Association (UA) Committee on COVID-19 has been collaborating with DormCon to improve the dining situation. UA Vice President Yu Jing Chen ’22 said in an interview with The Tech that the committee has been responsible for collecting student feedback through surveys and communicating with MIT Dining. The committee and DormCon have also jointly pushed for meals to be closer to students, as it has been a long walk for students in Next House, New House, and East Campus to take to the Student Center for meals.

MIT Dining Director Mark Hayes wrote in an email to The Tech that MIT Dining has received feedback via house surveys, house teams, and a UA student forum. MIT Dining “got the message that we have to recommit to delivering the quality and variety of food that students deserve.” Beyond “ensuring food quality and variety, the plan is based on open and ongoing communication between students, house teams, MIT Dining, and Bon Appetit,” Hayes wrote.

In response to the negative feedback from students, Hayes and Bon Appetit Resident District Manager Scott Myers sent students living on campus an email Sept. 24 announcing enhancements to the dining program and apologizing for shortcomings in dining quality. “The process of preparing, transporting, and distributing meals to all nine houses ended up compromising food quality.”

Dining changes include a return to “in-house production” of food in all five dining houses for dinner and weekend brunch, relocation of breakfast and lunch production to the Student Center’s retail kitchen, improved “quality of hot food served in Lobdell for breakfast and lunch,” and “daily food audits” by Bon Appetit’s directors “frequently in tandem with MIT Dining directors.” Several staff members who previously worked in the dining hall kitchens will return to their dining halls.

Hayes and Myers also wrote that they plan to “improve the quality of offerings for students with dietary restrictions.” In addition, they announced the launching of special-themed meals every Friday as well as TechSnacks, an after-hours snack service in all nine undergraduate residence halls.

Shi, Ghenand, and Adebiyi agreed that the terms of the action plan are a step in the right direction. Adebiyi added that while his experience with MIT Dining has been “generally unfavorable” this semester, he was “optimistic for change.” He added that the planned changes are “promising for quality improvements, especially in Next, which is a large portion of the concerns.” 

Ghenand and Adebiyi also wrote that the return of chefs who previously worked in dorm dining halls will be an improvement.

The MIT Student Sustainability Coalition recently launched a pilot program aimed at providing students with reusable utensil sets in order to cut down on the usage of single-use utensils that MIT Dining has switched to during the pandemic.

Nishat and Syar wrote that a “good portion” of the containers food is served in “is recyclable if cleaned,” and that they “urge students to recycle and compost” when possible.

Students with additional feedback should email, leave a comment on the Bon Appetit website, or “complete a comment card in one of our dining facilities,” Hayes wrote in his statement to The Tech. “Additionally, we have created an online idea bank for students who wish to share ideas on how to enhance the campus dining experience with the dining team.”