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New caf offers more options to meet student needs

Buried beneath dust and debris of construction, the cafeteria in Belmont’s new $90 million building seeks to redefine university dining by offering more of what students want and need.

Set to be completed in June, the new dining space will offer more diverse food options to around 1,000 students at a time– up from the 400-student capacity of the current cafeteria in the Gabhart Student Center.

Several themed dining rooms–including urban and steakhouse rooms–, a private dining section, bar-like seating options at food service stations and a balcony café overlooking the lawn will make the cafeteria a long-standing addition to the campus when it comes to growing student needs, Director of Belmont Dining Services Kyle Grover said.

“Based on 1000 seats, I would guess that we’re good for the next twenty years, believe it or not. We produce enough food in this dining hall– and we have a kitchen built in 1980. Over time, we have adjusted every year to the new demands. When I started here in 2007, I think we might have had 1400 or 1500 meal plans. Today, we have almost 3000.”

Along with expanded seating options, the dining hall will also feature more areas for food service than the current cafeteria, including a Mongolian flat top, two salad bars, two deli lines, three beverage stations and an expanded cereal counter. Students will also be able to pick up to-go meals from a room separate from the rest of the caf.

Students with special dietary needs were also taken into consideration during the planning of the new caf: A special vegetarian-only entreé line will parallel the regular line, and those with allergies will have their own food preparation station.

“One of the unique things we’re doing is putting out an allergy station, so the students who have any kind of allergies will have their own station and all the food will be cooked right there. There will be no chance of cross-contamination or anything,” Grover said.

Weekend hours for the dining hall will also be changed to be more convenient for student use, reflecting the weekday schedule that students are used to.

“There won’t be meal hours on the weekends. When we open at 9:30 on Saturday and Sunday, we will be open the rest of the day. We’re trying to show more value to students,” Grover said. “So they don’t have to think, ‘During the week I eat here, and over the weekend I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to eat.’ We’re going to make it standard and take all the guesswork out of it.”

Dehydrators will reduce the waste stream of the new dining hall by up to 50 percent, converting solid waste products into a soil supplement to be used by Belmont Enactus for their future projects.

“Napkins and cardboard will be ground up in the food waste, goes down into the basement and is put into our dehydrators. For every 450 pounds of food waste that goes into the dehydrator, we get 35 pounds of reusable secondary dirt, like a supplement to dirt. It takes 24 hours to turn it from food to dirt,” Grover said.

With a larger caf and different hours, the new cafeteria will also require a greater number of Sodexo employees. Grover predicts that 230 to 250 workers will be on campus next semester, up from the 170 who currently work at Belmont.

Many of the new cafeteria’s features are the result of student comments, suggestions and emails, the way they want their dining hall to be and the things they want to see moving forward.

“Food is so much more than food today. Today, everything is an experience and how a student fits into that experience,” Grover said.

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