Dining Services Keeping It Fresh

Marisa Pollastrini-

Giddy up and get some “Cowboy Taco Soup” and other new items on the menu next fall at North Point and Price Commons, University of WisconsinStout’s two cafeterias.  

Refreshing the menu annually while keeping old favorites like hamburgers and french fries is just a part of the planning that the University Dining team oversees. The team is comprised of UW students and other staff, and led by Dining Director Ann Thies.

Dining services at Stout diligently adjusts and makes improvements to the menus once every year, according to Thies. “[They] have six weeks of menus that rotate the whole year, and then again each summer.” The menu changes this frequently so that it stays fairly fresh.  

New recipes are offered as Tuesday Night Samples, hosted at the two cafeterias, where students take surveys indicating what they like or dislike. Popular items are sometimes added to next year’s menu. Though the process is long and hard, when creating new items, the team’s main focus continues be budget. Thies states that their goal is“to keep the price point of the entrees all within a certain range, […] because students are here for four years, and they are going to have a big enough bill when they leave.”

Since the dining services here at Stout are self-operated, its budget is separate from the rest of the campus. Thies explains that “the difference between self-operated and contracted is that we pay for everything, and everything we make goes back to the students.” The primary goal in designing menus at both the cafeterias is to “keep the costs really low, because it’s expensive to go to school and eat,” says Thies.

Statistics, according to industry benchmarks, show most students at UW-Stout are highly satisfied with the food items served. They rank Stout’s dining services a 4.0 in overall satisfaction, which is above the Industry’s average of 3.8.

Although the dining service is offering more healthy food options and working to make recipes less sodium based, according to Thies, they will always continue to serve a variety of other foods including french fries and potato chips.

“[Dining Services] is going to offer what students like,” explains Thies, “because we’re not a high school; we’re not a grade school. These are adults; they should be able to make their choices on their own, and we want them to be able to enjoy the food because they are paying for it.” Thies makes it clear that within the heavy decision makings of the cafeterias’ menus, the students come first.  

Thies, a Stout grad herself, has been employed by the university since 1982. During her time at Stout, she is responsible for starting the campus compost system at the university in 2010.  She added that in the ‘90s, Dining Services led the brigade to recycle glass, plastic and tin at Stout.

In keeping with the mission for the University Dining Service, Thies oversees a diverse student management team consisting about 50 employees, and another 500 employed students are dedicated to providing quality food and excellent service in a fiscally responsible manner.

The Dining Service mission statement sums it up: “As leaders in the industry, we strive to exceed customer expectations by offering value, convenience and enjoyable dining experiences for the University Community. We promote career enhancement and support the educational mission of the University.”