Michael White, associate dining services director in the department of dining services, talked about the “Just Ask” program, designed to encourage students to ask for accommodations in dining halls when needed.
White said changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced dining services to alter their layout and limit the product placed out for students to see. He said students continued to ask for many of the products that could not be placed out due to the new regulations.
“When all of this started and we had to change the serving model… [it] limited the amount of space we had in the dining halls to put product out. For example, in the past, we might have had a whole salad bar and then we had a second salad bar that had yogurt and fruit, and we weren’t putting yogurt and fruit out at night, but we were still getting kids asking for it,” White said.
White said students could send messages to dining services, and the questions would often be answered by him. He said many questions centered around products available to the students that were not out for them to see because of current regulations. This was what sparked the creation of the “Just Ask” program.
“I know we buy it, I know we have it in the refrigerator, but we just don’t have the space to put it out,” White said. “I was constantly telling my managers, ‘let’s add this, let’s make sure we always have yogurt, let’s make sure we always have fresh fruit available, and if a kid asks for it, give it to them.’ That was really all that was behind all of this.”
White compared the role of dining services to that of a restaurant. He said dining halls will not always have what students request, but he said it is better for students to ask than for the product to go to waste.
“If you were in a restaurant and you didn’t get butter served with your potato, you would ask them, ‘can I get butter?’ so I always want students to feel like they can ask for something,” White said. “We may not have it, but there’s a really good chance we do, and I don’t want to be sitting on something in the refrigerator, and a student gets upset that they don’t see it, they just need to ask for it.”
White stressed that their goal with this program is to empower the students to fully use the meal plans they have. He said this is easier when students can provide the immediate first-hand experience of being in a dining hall.
“I want students to feel like they pay for this, they should ask questions when it’s happening, and we’re there to help as opposed to dealing with something two or three days later with mom or dad who really doesn’t have the first-hand experience of what took place,” White said.