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Heilman Dining Hall | Web Update

Dining Hall food suggestion, comment system to go mobile

Published: January 22, 2012, 7:08 pm ET
Collegian Reporter

University Dining Services will introduce a Text-n-Tell program to the Heilman Dining Center next month allowing students to go mobile with food suggestions.

Jerry Clemmer, residential dining director, and Blake Widdowson, retail operations director, first heard about Text-n-Tell at the 2011 National Association of College & University Food Services conference in Dallas, Clemmer said.

Text-n-Tell allows students to send feedback straight to dining services from their cell phones. A sheet explaining the new feedback system will be placed on each table in the dining hall. Students can rate the food, service, cleanliness and menu variety from 1 (very poor) to 5 (excellent). Students can also text comments, suggestions or emergency food requests. Students can remain anonymous aside from their cellphone numbers being visible to program administrators.

Students’ texts will go to a website that dining hall operators can access and offer responses. Most responses will be displayed on the monitors in the dining hall, rather than be sent directly to the student, Clemmer said.

The only time responses will be sent back to the student are in times of emergency or if the comment cannot be posted on the monitor for inappropriateness, he said. “If a student says, ‘Hey, what happened to the granola?’ then I can bounce back and say, ‘It moved to the right two spaces,” Clemmer said.

Not every comment will receive a response, but Clemmer and staff will do their best to answer the bulk of questions, he said.

Cindy Stearns, assistant director of dining services, has been with the university for 34 years. She has never seen another university that cares as much about the student input, she said. “We really do use that information to guide in making menus and changes as needed,” she said.

Stearns plans to see how effective Text-n-Tell is in the dining hall before introducing it to other campus eateries, she said.

The Text-n-Tell website will store all comments made by students, so dining services and kitchen staff can reflect upon them at weekly meetings to make necessary change, Stearns said.

This program is an addition to, rather than a replacement for, the UR Heard online/suggestion boxes already available. “You have to use every way possible to reach and talk to students,” Stearns said.

Dining services has Twitter and Facebook accounts to communicate with students, Stearns said. “If it’s another way to listen to somebody and get some input for our menus… we are there for it,” she said.

“It was us [dining services] who wanted this program, “Jerry Clemmer said. “No one from higher up forced it on us.”

Clemmer said he felt the dining hall was a piece of him and the Text-n-Tell program would only make it better.

Clemmer said the program has three key objectives:

Objective 1: To improve the dining hall’s overall quality
Objective 2: To strengthen the communication line between students and dining hall staff.
Objective 3: To serve as an outlet for students who neglect to fill out UR Heard cards or stop by Jerry Clemmer’s office with comments.

The ultimate goal for Clemmer and staff is to be in the top 10 dining halls in the Princeton Review, where it is currently in 14th place, he said.

Contact reporter Laila Hart at laila.hart@richmond.edu

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