What's for dinner?

Choices satisfy varied tastes

The changing tastes and eating habits of students are driving major changes in campus dining. Sodexho General Manager Dave McElhinney says today’s typical student enjoys ethnic food, has a high expectation of quality and variety, and grew up eating more than 50 percent of his or her meals outside the home.

"Food used to be just a necessity of life,” he says. “Now it’s more than that — it’s as much about entertainment and atmosphere as food.”

Cornell and Sodexho completed a major renovation of both the serving and dining areas last summer. Diners can now enjoy hand-tossed pizzas, stir-fries cooked to order, and many other selections in a revamped dining area with smaller tables and brighter décor.

McElhinney says the goal is to give each diner an individualized meal. The result is that food service staff now handles more than 4,000 food items, compared to 400 in the past, while offering cuisines from around the globe to 700–1,000 customers per hour.

Sodexho also tries to satisfy the estimated 20 percent of customers with special dietary needs, including veganism, low-cal, and various food allergies. And students like senior Jeff Bessmer are pushing for more changes that McElhinney agrees are the next frontier.

"I am a pretty average eater, but I do like to eat healthy and support local businesses,” Bessmer says. “I eat organic and all-natural food whenever possible and affordable. And I care about Cornell students getting the healthiest food that is reasonable. If we eat healthier food, that will impact the rest of our lives in a positive way.”

Another trend, says McElhinney, is that most students prefer to graze on seven to eight small meals a day rather than eat three large meals. His staff is working to develop carry-out, microwavable entrees that students can eat whenever they like.

"We have to do our best to meet the students’ needs,” he says.