It all started on September 20, with a third of an ear of corn, snap peas, and a stuffed portabello mushroom. Sean Y. Liu ’10 was disgusted with the size of his dinner, so he took a snapshot and sent it out the next-forum mailing list for everyone to see.
Within minutes, Liu’s e-mail had prompted a chorus of complaints about Next Dining, and about how it has deteriorated since last year.
“A portion that can feed us last year, has shrunk to perhaps snack size,” one student wrote.
“Nearly every dinner I have had has been smaller than the smallest dinner I had last year,” another wrote.
“And the counter lady just makes up prices sometimes!” someone added.
The complaints quickly spread, reaching the UA Dining Committee and eventually Rich D. Berlin, director of MIT Campus Dining. Berlin sent an e-mail Next House residents on Sept. 24 to reassure them that the situation was being addressed. He wrote that he and Simon Nasser, the Campus Dining operations manager had met with the management of Bon Appetit, which runs Next Dining.
He acknowledged the complaints and said that “immediate corrective actions” were being taken.
All House Dining Halls including Next House Dining are operated by the Bon Appetit catering company. Marietta Lamarre-Buck, General Manager, of Bon Appetit declined to comment.
Students rehashed their complaints last Wednesday when they met with Next House Dining Chair Ron M. Perez ’12 to discuss their dissatisfaction.
First there was the problem of tiny portions. Liu did not attend the meeting, but in an e-mail complained that the manager told him that his third of an ear of corn counted as a “serving.” “Being charged an increased fee ... for ‘half-off’ meals, when I have to buy two is pointless,” Liu added. Others criticized the quality of the meals, and the quality of the preparation. One person complained that the stir fry chef kept mixing the meat and non-meat spoons. Another said that the kitchen kept running out of supplies: “They advertise specials and don’t actually have the necessary ingredients.” Another student complained that fruit cups were no longer filled up all the way.
Many students also complained about the erratic pricing. One e-mail to next-forum accused the Next Dining cashier of “making up” prices. One student said, “I picked up a piece of cake today and she asked me if there was a price listed, which there wasn’t. She promptly typed in $4.50 for the price, even though I’ve never seen any desserts above like $3.50.”
Students also pointed out the pricing on the Arizona Iced Teas. Even though the can showed a price of $1, the tea was being sold at Next Dining for $1.20.
Despite the numerous complaints about dining, Perez said he thinks that all the issues were “trivial.” The combination of new staff and new meals led to a change that made students unhappy. Perez said that after the meeting and Berlin’s e-mail, the improvement in quality and efficiency within Next Dining was noticeable.
Perez said that Liu’s meal was so small in part because Liu refused the rice and salad that came with the meal. Perez added that, according to Bon Appetit, the cashier was new and did not yet know the prices of all the meals.
Perez attributes the complaints in part to the staff changes made over the summer. Both the grill master and stir fry cook were replaced at Next Dining, and the new cooks could not do their jobs exactly like the pervious cooks. Perez said that the residents who eat at Next Dining get to know the cooks after a while, and when staffing changes, students tend to complain because both quality and portion sizes change as well.