It can’t be overstated how much millennial college students enjoy out-of-the-ordinary dining experiences.
“We’ve found that if you serve it, they will try it,” says Melissa McMahon, assistant director of Culinary & Hospitality Services at Kennesaw State University, in Georgia.
In the case of dim sum, it’s the service model that’s just as noteworthy as the food: Small bites—steam buns, dumplings and many more items—are piled high on special mini cloches or steam baskets that are designed to keep the food warm as it zips around the room on carts with wheels. Seated diners then pick and choose what looks good to them…sort of a buffet that comes to you, and a dining style that’s a part of ancient Chinese cuisine, more specifically Cantonese cuisine.
A little more history: dim sum—the style of dining and the selection of tasty small plates—goes hand in hand with another Chinese tradition called yum cha. Translated as “drink tea,” the phrase yum cha means a lot more than that: stopping to rest; taking time to enjoy tea and a snack and to recharge.
McMahon says this concept seems tailor-made for her customers, and appeals to their hunger for food as more than just sustenance.
“The whole dim sum service is really an experience,” she says. “Serving dishes directly from a rolling cart is fantastic. Students can choose from a variety of small bites without having to leave their seat. It’s almost like opening a present when the cloche is removed, revealing the treat inside.”
Those “presents” included a variety of pot stickers, dumplings, steamed buns and noodles, all with dipping sauces for maximum flavor sampling. Student favorites were jiaozi dumplings (both meat and veggie versions) and cha siu bao (steamed buns with meat).
The kitchen relied on a mix of housemade and premade items to pull off the event, as many items can be pretty labor-intensive. The dipping sauces served elevated the items and added something special.
Prior to the initial event, the dining team visited some authentic dim sum restaurants in the Atlanta area. Once the chefs got inspired and learned more, they shared that with the students through the food they prepared, and also through interaction. Chefs and students had some good conversations, and soon, students were asking for more dim sum events.
“We’ll be serving dim sum in the dining hall every other week,” McMahon says, adding that the determining factor was student demand.