University Dining Services is introducing new elements to campus eateries this year, including a new food truck and sustainability initiatives, to better reflect the needs of students.
In addition to new electronic ordering kiosks for made-to-order meals and a campus-wide rollout of bubble tea at cafes, Dining has parked a new food truck, Thyme & Change 2.0, next to the original Thyme & Change, a food truck outside Baker Systems Engineering on Neil Avenue that serves different lunch-time meals every day. The new truck will offer a rotating menu of plant-based foods, and is part of an enterprise to incorporate vegan- and vegetarian-friendly food across campus, Zia Ahmed, senior director of dining services, said.
“We try to be very intentional in terms of educating people about the diversity around food and also food lifestyles,” Ahmed said.
Sustainability is also a major focus of the changes. One of the most immediate differences students will notice is a discounted price for all cafe beverages if students provide their own reusable container, Ahmed said.
Ahmed said this is one of the many changes that will make Ohio State’s dining more environmentally and ethically conscious. The university has a goal of locally sourcing 40 percent of food by 2025.
“I think we, as the institution, have a larger goal and have a responsibility to educate our students about the food system,” Ahmed said. “We are definitely seeing an increasing demand from our students to be a more informed consumer of the food, and looking for and demanding transparency.”
Already, 100 percent of chicken on campus comes from within 50 miles of the university, Ahmed said, and the chicken feed is Ohio-grown.
Cory Stratton, operations manager at Morrill Traditions and Ohio State alumnus in environmental science, said he is proud of the advancements that the university has made on sustainability and local sourcing.
“I am always excited to see about our expansion in local and sustainable foods,” Stratton said. “That’s where I am always looking to expand where we can at our location. I think we are doing better with that every year, and I really look forward to seeing how much we can continue to expand there.”
Ahmed said student convenience also is a major factor in this year’s changes. In an effort to lower wait times for made-to-order options at all-you-can-eat locations on campus, dining services is testing computerized ordering kiosks — like those found at Union Market — in Morrill Traditions. This way, students can order their food without waiting in line.
Stratton said he thinks the kiosks will help lighten the load for employees as well. In addition to added customization and convenience, he said the data from digital kiosk orders will help all-you-can-eat locations determine which food items are most popular and which ones should be replaced.
The kiosks use the Tapingo food ordering app, although that will soon change, Ahmed said.
Tapingo, which is used for online and kiosk ordering at all university dining locations, was recently acquired by Grubhub, and Ahmed said that the transition to Grubhub will be taking place in the next few months. In the meantime, Tapingo will still work, but students are encouraged to download Grubhub.
While there are many changes and long-term projects underway, University Dining also regularly introduces new dishes to its establishments, and this year is no exception. Ahmed said he is most excited about the addition of Indian-fusion food, such as chicken tandoori wraps as well as Mirror Lake Eatery’s new plant-based chicken tenders.
Ahmed said almost all dining decisions, large and small, center on student feedback. The university regularly engages with customer satisfaction surveys, as well as focus groups, taste tests and feedback events with committees from Undergraduate Student Government and other student organizations. Dining staff is then consulted on the best way to roll out new offerings.
Stratton said being a part of this development process is why he enjoys working with dining.
“We are working with future leaders of the world that are here, and they’re getting an education, but we can also add into that to really be a representative for the food system and talk about the ways that we can continue to move forward and expand our food offerings,” Stratton said.