It is the start of a new year, and NJIT is effortlessly resuming its usual routines all throughout the campus. A multitude of Frisbees and soccer balls have made their way back onto the Green, chemistry and physics lectures can once again be heard echoing throughout the halls of Tiernan, and the all-too-familiar queue of hungry students infallibly trails out of GDS as it always does during the day. While patiently waiting for my turn to enter the dining hall, I couldn’t help but to recall the widely popular article that was published in the Vector’s online opinions column, late last spring.
“Gore-met Dining Services,” written by Jinisha Patel, generated quite the conversation amongst the student body on popular social media sites such as Facebook and Reddit. The article opens with Patel’s struggle to find food. The entrees station had closed for the night, the line at the grill was too long, and the fajitas station was running low on some ingredients. The lettuce was reportedly unkempt, there were no more utensils, and certain drinks were not dispensing out of the soda machine. At the same time, she mentions that the chef seemed to have prepared her food wrong by forgetting to season the meat in her fajita. Patel closes by touting her bitterness towards the dining hall, as she had paid money to eat there, on that night.
Many students seemed to have been pleased with the article. I was not one of them. I was mortified.
In my eyes, GDS is an honest company with humble beginnings. And as it states on their website, they try to cater to students with late evening classes by offering the salad bar, cold deli, pizza station, woks, omelets, noodle bar, and etcetera. Their virtues lie in working hard to satisfy the various dietary and religious needs of the student and administrative body by working closely with nutritionists, who have, on several accounts, helped our school see victory during the annual company-wide “Biggest Loser Challenge”. They even take requests and offer to try to recreate dishes to serve as specials! Perhaps I am just grateful, knowing and experiencing firsthand, the faltering grade of other dining halls located in the Newark-New York area. Incidentally, I have friends who love to steal my guest swipes and who say that GDS is several folds better than their dining halls located in big-name schools such as Rutgers New Brunswick or NYU, so it did not come as a surprise when Food Service Director, David Arluna, told me in an interview, that Rutgers Newark students occasionally come up to NJIT to sign up for GDS meal plans.
“Is that even allowed?” I asked him.
“It most certainly is, and we always have more than several students request to eat under our meal plan every year,” Arluna responds.
With all of this in mind, why do NJIT’s students seem to have such distaste for GDS? Patel makes some valid points, some that I agree with whole-heartedly. It is an inconvenience to walk into GDS at odd hours, when entrees are being prepared. It aggravates me when there are no utensils, cups, or bowls out and available to my every expedience. Trust me, I hate it when ingredients are running low too, but I’d still like to assert the opinion that not enough credit is given to the dining hall.
Enrique Torres (better known as “the GDS man”), tries to explain.
“A drop in the quality of food during the closing shift at the end of the week happens at any food place, even at major restaurants and food chains. You can’t just go there and expect their best quality. You’ll get older food, or food that isn’t as fresh because it’s a food service. The only place where you won’t run into a drop in the quality of food is a fast food chain, where food is readily prepared because it is kept frozen. It’s not realistic to expect top-notch quality all the time”.
Behind the scenes, the difficulties of running the huge operation of a college dining hall become more apparent. All of the food that is served is prepared by a small team in a small kitchen, where the trained chefs are the first ones to clock-in during the day, and the first ones to leave during the night. When each entrée takes roughly an hour to prepare, it is understandable why dinner cannot be extended into the later hours of the day. Food orders are managed to the best of GDS’ abilities, as Thorin Aiello, the director of catering, has not hesitated to make last minute orders and personally go out to get ingredients, himself.
“I don’t feel that we are doing worse than we should be,” Enrique expresses. “I think that we have a pretty strong team and perform well considering that all of our staff come from widely different ethnic or social backgrounds and age categories, conditions that would make communication difficult”.
Perhaps the man who prepared Patel’s fajita should have provided better service, but their interaction is not necessarily representative of hundreds that occur daily. As a general consensus, the GDS workers are very friendly, approachable, and genuinely trying to cater to the students; all despite having their own personal lives that they must tend to. “I have heard GDS workers have to momentarily pause in their work to answer their phones and tell their families that they are busy and have to return to the floor,” Naina Kamath, a sophomore, imparts. “They’re genuinely nice people, and can only do so much to juggle their lives’ demands, just like any other person”.
This year, GDS is being run under new management.
“GDS is still the same. We’ve only partnered up with a bigger company that enforces new policies for our staff (policies regarding conduct or retirement, for two examples). Nothing that has to do with students has changed,” Arluna clarifies.
Finally, on the behalf of the student body, I asked for the whereabouts of our beloved Panini presses. Arluna’s response?
“There’s been a delay in its return due to some issues with the fire inspector. The smoke and grease posed as a serious fire hazard, and we are looking into bringing them back”.
I know that that is not quite the answer that we were all looking forward to hear, but it should suffice for now. All in all, GDS is working very hard to please. It is not a part of a large conglomerate like the food services in New York, and as a busy student on a tight schedule, it is easy to forget that this small group caters to thousands of hungry mouths a day. Is GDS always ready? No. But will you find any food service that will always be ready? No. Unfortunately, that is an inherent problem that exists within any large scale catering service, and not something that is exclusively found here, at GDS.