Pomona Uses Student Survey Results to Revamp Dining Halls

After soliciting feedback from the student body last semester, Pomona College is working to revamp its dining services. The college is also hiring a new general manager who will begin working next semester.  

Last semester, the Pomona administration brought in Porter Khouw Consulting, a food service planning and design firm. Porter Khouw set up focus groups with students and sent out a comprehensive survey to the student body in March.

The administration received about 1,200 responses on a multitude of issues, including the times of day students prefer to eat, students’ favorite off-campus restaurants, their favorite food in the dining halls and general improvements they would like to see implemented, according to Assistant Vice President of Facilities and Campus Services Bob Robinson.

Robinson said that the feedback was neither overly positive nor overly negative.

“Food is a very personal thing,” he said. “Everyone has different preferences; it’s very subjective and personal for each individual. There were people who gave us feedback on things we did well and people who gave us feedback on things we could improve on, which is what we expected.”

The survey prompted the administration to implement many changes desired by the students, such as adding chicken to the daily menu, upgrading the salad bar and extending the hours of operation for Frary Dining Hall, Robinson said. 

These changes have been met with generally positive responses from the student body, Robinson said. In previous years, the dining services administration had seen a trend of Pomona students choosing to eat at other Claremont Colleges dining halls.

“You’ve got 5,000 students and close to seven dining halls, all within walking distance of each other,” Robinson said. “Our students are very savvy, they’re very consumer-oriented, they can easily look on their smartphones what’s on the menu for Pitzer or Collins and decide where they want to go. You’ve got a lot of choices out there.”

However, since the survey and the subsequent changes implemented by the administration, this trend has reversed, and Pomona has seen more students choosing to eat at Pomona dining halls, Robinson said.

When asked about the impetus behind the survey, Robinson said, “We had just gone through the unionization effort and put a lot of things on hold while that process played out, so once the vote to unionize was taken, once we had a contract in place, I thought it was time to take a step back and reevaluate the program.”

In May 2013, Pomona dining hall employees voted 57 to 26 to unionize and finalized a collective bargaining contract with the college in December 2013.

The momentum to improve dining services was also spurred by the search for a new general manager for dining services. According to Robinson, the last general manager left the job in December 2013 after finding a new job.

The new manager is scheduled to start in January 2015. That person will be responsible for the oversight of an annual operating budget of $7.1 million, over 95 full-time employees and around 3,000 meals a day. According to the job posting, “The General Manager provides Pomona College with expertise in dining and hospitality management, procurement, sustainability, nutrition initiatives, culinary trends, and program development.”

The search has brought five candidates to campus for interviews and meetings. The candidates met with students and dining hall workers over five lunch meetings between Nov. 11 and Nov. 25.

“We want someone that really cares about the students and knows that we need a good environment—somebody that respects our contract and respects the workers,” Catering Chef Benny Avina said.

Liyanna Sadowski PO ’17, who attended a meeting, said she would like a new management system that is responsive to student voices.

“It seems that student input is not taken as seriously as maybe it should be,” Sadowski said. “I do think that a shift in management, if done correctly and with the right intentions, could help this integration take place.”

After choosing a general manager, Pomona will continue to reform dining services by improving the efficiency of the existing management structure, implementing a new menu managing system and eventually expanding the dining program.

“We are always evaluating and looking at what other campuses are doing and what the latest trends are,” Robinson said. “We just want to have the best food service operation we can have.”

Maia Welbel contributed reporting.

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