This month, I’m deviating from my usual pattern of reviewing a restaurant off campus to be the first to write an opinion about the Dining Hall, the newest convenient dining option for UTD’s students.
I understand I’m not informing you of anything new — if you’re the type to pick up an issue of AMP or visit its website in the first place, I’d bet my left kidney you’ve already heard all about the Dining Hall. But in case you’re still on the fence about spending the time and money to try it out, I’ve laid out my honest opinion here for you.
The Dining Hall has the potential to change campus. Now before you turn the page on what seems to be a shameless plug for the latest campus project, notice my qualifier: the Dining Hall has potential. It’s not perfect (yet), but it is exciting, inviting, and, indeed, full of tasty food.
I admit I was taken aback at first sight by how well the hall blends elements of UTD’s soul while still managing to look modern. Smooth curves, high ceilings, attractive steel and glass trim, and just the right amount of green and orange fuse to create a design of which you can be proud.
The circular buffet area invites you to walk around the perimeter examining what each station is offering but also gives you the space and freedom to skip around to any station. The spacious and airy sitting area, reminiscent of such fashionable eateries as Sweet Tomatoes and Café Express, encourages conversation without looking or feeling anything like a cafeteria.
The food is delightfully uncafeteria-like as well. I came from a small high school where Sloppy Joe filling on a tortilla (a Sloppy José?) qualified as a meal. So to be honest, the idea of a dining hall on campus never really appealed to me.
However, the Dining Hall is completely different. There’s pizza cooking in a wood-burning brick oven right behind the counter, you can watch the chefs fry chicken, and several dishes are even made to order.
The lunch and dinner offerings include a stir-fry station where you choose the ingredients and sauce, a sandwich bar, a vegetarian/vegan station, American home style meals, pasta, a salad bar, soups, soft serve, fresh fruit, pastries, pies, cookies, and sodas.
I can recommend the pizza, stir fry, pasta, and, although I’m an adamant meat eater, even the grilled veggies. I can’t recommend everything, but only because I haven’t tried it yet. The food is satisfying, and I was full long before I could try it all.
During breakfast the spread isn’t as wide, but it’s still better than any breakfast I’ve had at college. The waffle bar offers DIY waffle irons, pastries, breads, and bagels as well as a wide variety of toppings, including several cream cheese schmears, fruit compotes, and, of course, butter and syrup. Cereal and milk, fruit, and a few hot choices such as bacon or sausage are also available, but the big draw is the made-to-order omelets. With so many ingredients to choose from, the seasoned eggs and gooey cheese make for a breakfast as good as any restaurant’s.
As you can tell, I am proud of the atmosphere and the food at the Dining Hall. Serving a rotating choice of foods in a buffet-like setting has forever changed dining on campus. Also if the Dining Hall catches on, it and the Residence Hall could push the spirit and attitude surrounding campus in an entirely new direction. Students’ eating in the hall day after day will create new student habits and encourages friendships, conversations, and possibly even traditions.
Actually, I should say the Dining Hall has the potential to do all that. Food is a powerful motivator, but there is much room for improvement.
As many before me have pointed out (see The Mercury’s editorial) the Dining Hall’s hours are inconvenient, to say the least. Closing at 8 PM on weekdays and 7 PM on weekends is inconvenient for those with late classes. Even worse, those times are approximate: the food distribution actually ends before closing time, and the switch from breakfast to lunch occurs before the posted time of 10:30 AM.
One night, I arrived at 7:47 PM, assuming that, as I would at a restaurant, I had 13 minutes to grab food, only to be told it was being put away. Once I arrived at breakfast by 10:00 to find the breakfast meats already gone. My omelet was prepared only because of a kind kitchen staffer. So not only are the posted times annoying, a diner actually has to arrive much earlier — even 45 minutes earlier for breakfast.
Some students will also find the prices disagreeable. Since I am a restaurant and frozen food junkie, a meal plan is not a viable option for me, so I’m considering the individual meal prices. While I find them fair for an all-you-can-eat meal, with $6.50 at breakfast, $7.50 at lunch, and $8.50 at dinner (Golden Corrals now charge around $11, not including your drink), I can understand why students shy away from both the daunting total of a meal plan, and a $7.50 lunch — it’s not something most college students can afford regularly.
My opinions aside, many financial and business factors determine both the hours of operation and the prices. Whether students will accept both will be interesting to see. I, for one, will definitely be enjoying the delicious food, but only every once in a while, as I do with all my favorite restaurants.