Posted by Patrick Maness
There was a time when college students across the country went to drab, linoleum-floored cafeterias to eat. They filed into line, sat at crowded tables and ate food that, at best, was forgettable.
The cafeterias you probably remember from your college days were designed with utility in mind. The goal was to serve the most people for the least amount of money. The result was a subpar dining experience where simple carbs, starches, cheap proteins and high-sugar drinks helped with the notorious "freshman 15" for many students.
If you’ve been in a modern college cafeteria recently, you’ve probably noticed things have changed quite a bit. Just like iceberg lettuce has been replaced with spinach and arugula, so have college cafeterias come a long way in both the quality of food they serve and the experiences they offer.
To showcase the culinary and design creativity present in today’s college cafeterias, here’s a look at five of the most innovative and exciting food programs in the country.
Maine’s prestigious liberal arts college has long been recognized as one of the nation’s top schools and a magnet for bright, curious minds. But for all its academic excellence, in recent years Bowdoin has also come to be known as one of the top colleges for food.
It has achieved this status through a combination of smart sourcing, variety and technology.
Much of the fresh produce comes from the Bowdoin Organic Gardens and is prepared on-site. Of course, the proximity to the Atlantic means fresh seafood is readily available. That’s right, lobster regularly makes an appearance on the menu.
The largest dining hall on campus, Thorne Hall, is a setting equal to the food. Vaulted ceilings, modern lighting and large windows that really bring the outside beauty of the surrounding forest into the room make for a complete dining experience.
Collis Café at Dartmouth College
Centrally located on the Dartmouth campus, Collis Café is an outstanding example of how many different kinds of food can be prepared and served under one roof.
After a four-month renovation that TriMark was proud to be part of, Collis Café opened its doors as a one-stop food shop fully capable of serving baked goods made from scratch, expertly crafted soups, crepes, customs omelets, milkshakes, pho and more. The café is able to offer such a wide variety of options and an international culinary experience because of the carefully planned layout in the back of the house. By working with TriMark, Dartmouth's dining service was able to take an ambitious design and turn it into a reality.
Did we mention there's also a selection of ice cream on-site?
Marciano Commons, Boston University
It makes sense that one of the largest private universities in the country would have a large dining hall. With two floors and the capacity to seat almost 1,000 students, Marciano Commons is Boston University's newest dining hall and one of the most impressive college eateries in the country.
One of the first things visitors might notice when walking through the door is the Commons is apparently home to several different food stations or "restaurants," as they're called. It looks more like an upscale food court than a college cafeteria.
A unique program in the Commons involves inviting a chef from the Boston area to come in and basically take over the kitchen and serve up signature dishes to students.
To bring a project of this scope and vision together, Boston University relied on the experts at TriMark to take charge of coordinating the numerous details and juggling the multiple suppliers and vendors who contributed to making this landmark cafeteria.
University of Massachusetts — Amherst
If you eat a meal prepared by Bobby Flay or the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart, you might think you’ve stepped into a restaurant that has a six-month waiting list. But that’s exactly what students at Massachusetts’ flagship university have eaten in their dining hall.
Despite having to serve nearly 40,000 meals a day to 16,500 students, the dynamite staff here still manage to serve an incredible variety of food that tastes like it was made for quality rather than quantity.
The university, like many other university dining services, holds itself to a high standard when it comes to responsible eating and sourcing. The “Real Challenge Campus Commitment” is a program that aims to make at least 20 percent of the food served come from local or fair trade sources.
How could a cafeteria that hosts a “Night at Hogwarts,” featuring butterbeer, chocolate frogs, and owls brought in from the University’s raptor program not be one of the top college cafeterias in the country?
In addition to bringing some creativity to their dining program, Cornell has a number of signature features that make it a great place to receive a culinary education. With 10 all-you-can-eat dining rooms, multiple cafes, bakeries and a premium on sustainability, Cornell's program is one of the best examples of how a college dining program can be exciting, nutritious and delicious.