“More plants, please.” That’s the answer Drexel University’s Campus Dining Services got when it asked students what they were looking for at school.
“Student feedback is integral to enhancing the campus dining experience,” says Steven Lewis, Aramark’s marketing manager at Drexel. So last fall, the Philadelphia-based college rolled out more fresh, healthy food options utilizing sustainable food practices. First up? U.C. Veg, a new vegetarian and vegan concept at the meal exchange dining hall Urban Eatery. With an emphasis on seasonal eating, the station serves up an ever-changing menu that makes use of local ingredients. “It’s our new shining star,” Aramark General Manager Kristina Coble told Drexel’s student newspaper The Triangle.
The U.C. Veg menu offers a rotating selection of two hot entrees and side salads that change each week, along with a featured salad and handheld entree that change every other week. Each month boasts a different soup and dessert, too. This fall saw options like roasted butternut squash tartines, roasted chickpea gyros, vegetarian crabcakes and an autumn harvest salad with roasted butternut squash, grapes, quinoa and spinach. (The salad proved so popular, it was added to the menu permanently.) There are even plant-forward dessert options, like pumpkin crumble parfaits and vegan chocolate and zucchini carrot cupcakes. Best of all, a new kiosk system makes ordering quick and easy. “Guests can customize their order and get a text alert when it’s ready,” Lewis says.
U.C. Veg wasn’t the only thing to change at Urban Eatery. Street Fare, a rotating restaurant concept with unique dining experiences that change from week to week, got some fresh updates as well. Among them is Ever Grains, a salad-bowl concept featuring natural, functional and seasonal ingredients designed to promote optimal health and well-being. “It a monotony breaker,” Coble told The Triangle. Ignite, Urban Eatery’s grill station, also began offering Beyond Meat plant-based burger patties.
Students were greeted with more welcome changes at Handschumacher Dining Center, Drexel’s all-you-care-to-eat dining location. Vegan and vegetarian options were expanded at the made-to-order sauté station. Identifying meatless meals got easier, too, thanks to “Eat Well” leaf symbols now denoting plant-based menu items. Those looking for even more ways to minimize their carbon footprint can also take advantage of new reusable to-go containers. The boxes are available for purchase for $8, and students can bring them back for each meal.
Fresh fruits and veggies are easier to come by beyond the dining halls, too. Drexel partnered with the nonprofit regional food distributor The Common Market to launch Farm Share, a bi-weekly farmers’ market with a rotating selection of up to six in-season options. Students can use meal swipes, dining dollars or cash to buy local produce. (Aramark’s on-campus dietitian offers corresponding recipe cards for culinary inspiration, Lewis says.) Those who want to really commit to seasonal eating can even sign up for the Common Market Farm Share, a subscription to local foods sourced from nearby farms. In addition to fresh-picked fruits and vegetables, students can beef up their bi-weekly deliveries with certified humane eggs, artisanal cheese, antibiotic-free poultry, natural meat, fresh-baked bread, and plain or flavored yogurt.
The changes were a collaborative effort by multiple groups. “The Aramark dining team partnered with Drexel Campus Dining Services, the student dining committee and the Drexel Sierra Club to turn these dreams into a reality,” says Lewis. And because all of the updates were made in response to student requests, Campus Dining made a big push to spread the word. “Ads in the student newspaper, weekly emails to dining plan holders, social media campaigns and a student-led peer-to-peer team are all part of the marketing strategy.
While the updates are impressive, they’re far from static. “The team does not ‘hold’ enhancements. Instead, we make integral changes throughout the year,” Lewis says. Over the fall, Campus Dining met with students and representatives from Drexel’s Undergraduate Student Government Association to collect feedback regarding changes for the winter 2019 and spring 2019 trimesters. Next on the horizon? Acai bowls, kombucha and more hot vegetarian entrees are all possibilities, along with further updates to the ordering technology platforms.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve done,” Assistant Vice President of Campus Services Don Liberati told The Triangle. “But we have a swirling list of things to do.”