At Drexel University, students are all familiar with Urban Eatery and Hans Dining. At one point, we have all experienced what it is like to have a meal plan. But have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes?
Cooking for over 3,000 students daily is no easy task, especially when trying to accommodate everyone’s needs correctly. Drexel has around 120 working staff members and 80 student employees as part of the dining halls. Some of these staff members have been working there for over 30 years. Over time, they have mastered the skills to cook a good meal with speed.
Food quality can be hard to accomplish when cooking for so many people at such a quick rate, but Drexel’s kitchens ensure that all food is fresh when served. They implement the “batch cooking” technique, preparing batches of food but not cooking it all immediately. That way, whenever the previous batch is done, it is easy to quickly serve more, while ensuring the food’s quality.
Of course, we all know about the “freshman 15” and both parents and students get worried about the variety of healthy options available at Drexel’s dining halls. To try and accommodate everyone’s wants and needs, Drexel is constantly updating their food stations and making sure to have the “core nutritional facts” for every dish. They have opted to create “build your own” food stations where students can choose how healthy they want to eat. The stir fry station and build-your-own bowl station at Hans Dining are good examples of this.
Also, for those with a dietary restriction, make sure to reach out to Drexel’s dietitian. Students can coordinate a meal plan designed and personalized specifically to meet their needs without having to pay extra.
For athletes in sports teams, you can also reach out to Drexel’s dietitian to design a meal plan that will have all the proteins, nutrients, vitamins and carbohydrates necessary. For pre-games, there will usually be a catering service given to the team members.
As a freshman, it is a requirement to have a meal plan. But why? According to Nicholas Mendez, resident district manager, the reason why is to teach students how to budget and make sure they are safe and healthy as they try to adapt to their new college lifestyle. Drexel encourages sophomores, juniors and seniors to stay on the meal plan by implementing more interesting options for them. At the moment, there is Chick Fil A, Starbucks, and the new addition, Pret A Manger.
Before the pandemic, Drexel’s dining plans had limited swipes and students felt the need to eat as much as possible to gain back the value of the money they were paying. Now, Drexel has opted to change this by giving the option of having an unlimited plan.
“We want to encourage moderation and allow students to feel free. We want them to feel at home as if going to their pantries. They can come to get a snack and later in the day get a full meal,” said Nicholas Mendez. “This way, we can reduce the famous freshman 15 and increase health.”
Because of its location, Drexel competes with many universities nearby, but being an open campus, it is hard to keep up with these other universities that have spaces designed for a variety of foods. Some schools will have a special dining hall for pizza and pasta, and another one for burgers and hot dogs. Drexel, however, has limited capacity and tries to add variety within the limited space available in Urban Eatery and Hans Dining.
In terms of the menu, Drexel keeps a database with multiple recipes and their nutritional value and makes sure to rotate every once in a while. Feedback is also very important. With this feedback, Drexel takes into consideration the most popular stations and those that are not so popular and makes changes. They also have dietitians on duty to help pick out the menus. As a student, you can check the menu out on the Drexel Campus Dining website: drexel.campusdish.com.
According to Mendez, one of the biggest difficulties is keeping the students interested in the dining halls. He used an analogy from your favorite restaurant to explain it. If you went to your favorite restaurant over and over for almost a year, you would start to lose interest. That’s what eventually happens in Urban Eatery and Hans Dining. Students start the year very excited about the variety of food they can eat, but over time, get bored of eating the same things over and over. Drexel tries to rotate some stations constantly to keep up with that.
When walking behind the scenes and into Hans Dining’s kitchen, it was pristinely cleaned. Kitchens get dirty, especially when cooking so quickly, all utensils were organized and there was a separate area for each food category to prevent cross-contamination.
Drexel Dining also contributes to the community by donating food that has not been used and is in a good state to charities such as Philabundance. They also hire staff members with disabilities and support the autism community by collaborating with the AJ Drexel Autism Institute.
Finally, Nicholas Mendez wants students to connect with Urban Eatery and Hans Dining by connecting with their locations through being nice to the staff and attending the events that are planned every once in a while for special occasions. He also wants students to give their feedback and reach out with any concerns or questions. After all, they want everyone to be comfortable, healthy and happy.
Make sure to stay up to date by following Drexel Dining’s Instagram: @drexeldining.