BC Dining’s ‘Test Kitchen’ Stirs Up On-Campus Meal Options

With a skillet icon prominently displayed on a digital sign and a stack of survey forms placed on the serving counter, a new food station opens for business in McElroy Dining Hall as part of Boston College Dining’s new Test Kitchen initiative. With the launch of Test Kitchen, BC Dining continues in its mission to add more variety to the menu and encourage students to become more involved in the campus dining experience.

Previously, the journey from taking one person’s idea for a new food item to putting it into regular rotation in the dining halls was a long, arduous process. Anyone could go up to a BC Dining manager and pitch his or her idea for a new item to add to the menu. BC Dining staff would then work to come up with a recipe and an efficient way to prepare and serve the item.

Using FoodPro, a menu management system containing a database of all the recipes currently on the menu, BC Dining analyzes the recipe and determines the best way to prepare the item on a large scale, its nutritional information, and the approximate selling price. The entire process took a disproportionate amount of effort to create an item that might not even be well-received by students, which led BC Dining to come up with a better way to invest its time in preparing and offering popular, high-quality items.

A group of BC Dining managers came up with the idea to have a Test Kitchen in dining halls as a vehicle for bringing in new ideas to the menu and encouraging open communication between BC Dining and students. Students will have a say in deciding whether a new item should become a new addition to the menu or be removed from rotation, letting BC Dining know if it is worth pursuing the original idea. All dining locations on campus will be participating in the Test Kitchen initiative, with designated Test Kitchen stations asking students who try the new item to fill out a survey and provide feedback and suggestions on how to improve it. An item would cycle through several Test Kitchen phases, continuously undergoing modifications based on student feedback, until it becomes part of the menu.

In this way, BC Dining hopes to ensure that it will only offer the best food options to its students. We didn’t want to stifle creativity in the process, and it seems to have worked very well,” said Megan O’Neill, associate director of BC Dining, regarding Test Kitchen and its debut at McElroy.

Test Kitchen is BC Dining’s newest addition to its repertoire of programs designed to accommodate students with special dietary needs and help them voice their concerns about current dining hall options. BC Dining currently holds focus groups, in which these students can suggest improvements to the menu to accommodate their needs. Managers and nutritionists from BC Dining and health coaches from the Office of Health Promotion also offer walk-throughs of the dining halls, giving tours to small groups of students and showing the options available to them.

“[These programs] give the students a good understanding of what we do and [help us] learn what their frustrations are,” said Michael Forcier, general manager of dining services at McElroy.

Many items currently on the menu have resulted from such programs, and BC Dining hopes that Test Kitchen will be just as successful in allowing more students to become involved in a substantial aspect of their BC experience.

BC Dining is currently promoting Test Kitchen through Instagram and Twitter to increase its social media presence and recruiting the help of other campus groups such as Media Technology Services to spread the message to as many people as possible.

An initiative like Test Kitchen underscores BC Dining’s dedication to making the campus dining experience a positive one. “Food is important, food is community,” O’Neill said. “You can’t work as many hours as we do without enjoying what we do. We want people to be happy and enjoy their time with us. That’s what BC Dining is all about, and that’s why we’re continuously trying to raise our bar.”

“Food is pretty much our life—that’s what we do, that’s how we live, and that’s what we believe in,” Forcier added. “We work tirelessly here to feed the students. We spend so much time here, and we are so invested in what we do that we want to make it right. We’re all for what the BC mission is in giving back and doing the right thing.”

Featured Image courtesy of Michael Forcier

Maddie Phelps

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