You’re with your date, sitting at a linen-covered table. A waiter approaches and hands you a menu with selections like gourmet burgers, specialty sandwiches and unique desserts. No, you’re not at a Cheesecake Factory or a restaurant in downtown Findlay. This premier culinary experience is taking place at Henderson. . . as in Henderson Dining Hall.
Opening Sept. 28, “Crave,” a new concept in college dining, will transform Henderson’s Rosewood Room into a full service restaurant one evening a month. Those on a meal plan can make reservations and bask in the coolness as well as cuisine that features UF icons such as an Old Main Club, Davis Street Tenders and Mazza Molten Cake.
The addition of “Crave” is just one facet in a mini overhaul of Henderson’s décor and menu offerings that were unveiled at the start of the academic year.
According to David Harr, food services director, there’s more of a trend to make campus dining less institutional and more cozy and homelike.
“We’ve found that our student diners don’t usually eat in large groups, so we’re changing the seating to more tables of four,” said Harr. “We’re also adding six u-shaped booths, some high tables and bars with stools and outlets for technology.”
The dining room is has been re-themed to reflect more of a UF identity, with new paint and floor tiles, orange trim and new carpet throughout. Dated hues like the peach and green tiles and sponged-tan wallpaper have disappeared.
“I think it gives the dining room more character and definition,” Harr added.
In addition to the physical updates, the menu has also been enhanced to offer variety and even surprises, something that’s important when the customer eats the majority of meals in the same location day-in and day-out. Along with the standard favorites, it’s now possible to create entire meals from Henderson’s healthy “Mindful” offerings (featuring a green apple logo.) Harr has added an appreciation snack the first Monday of each month and what he calls, “monotony breakers” like special holiday themes, Orange Out, and Apple Day.
The University of Findlay had the distinction of owning the first Coke Freestyle machine in Ohio. The computerized beverage dispenser offers hundreds of drink combinations available through a single spout. The Freestyle has become so popular that it’s made the 8-dispenser stations obsolete.
“Once we installed the Coke Freestyle, that’s where everyone went to fill their glasses,” laughed Harr. “The other stations just sat idle, so we’ve added a counter-top Freestyle in our Simply-to Go area this year. This is the first of its kind in the State of Ohio and even surrounding states.”
Other campus dining locations weren’t overlooked in the renovation, with special one-day menus at The Cave and “pop up” mini restaurants at Café a la Carte such as mashed potato, soup and dessert bars. Dining Services has four large student/staff events planned.
“We’ve already hosted the Welcome Picnic,” said Harr. “We’ll also have a traditional Thanksgiving luncheon, Soul Food Dinner and the Thanks for the Memories Dinner. Of course, we’ve brought back our monthly Steak Night.”
Recognizing that there are food-deprived residents in our own Findlay community, Dining Services promotes student community service through the Helping Hands Food Drive held in November. Harr is also planning a non-perishable drive sometime in February 2016. All food surpluses at the end of the semester are given to City Mission and periodic food donations are made throughout the year.
A 2012 study by “The Journal of Restaurant & Food Service Marketing” reports that first-year college students (the major campus food services market) are discerning when it comes to flavor and taste, quality and freshness and value and affordability. Campus dining must become more of a “customer experience,” with visually pleasing as well as palate-pleasing choices.
Harr feels that tasty, well-prepared food provided in a comfortable atmosphere is a major factor in attracting and retaining students. A website featuring U.S. campus dining put it best: “What you eat impacts your success and happiness at school.”