Survey: YSFP growth is a hit

Students are eating up the expanded Yale sustainable food offerings, according to a recent survey of the student body.

Results of the survey, conducted online in fall 2006 by Yale University Dining Services, were released this week and revealed higher student satisfaction in almost every category compared with the results of a similar survey in fall 2005. The survey results seem to vindicate those who supported expanding the Yale Sustainable Food Project this September, as administrators said the Project’s growth contributed substantially to this year’s improvements in student satisfaction. The latest numbers bode well for possible further expansions in YSFP, which will be determined over the next month as the dining services budget is set, administrators said.

A recent survey shows that students enjoy the expanded sampling of sustainable foods offered in dining halls, like the Davenport College dining hall above.
Blair Benham-Pyle
A recent survey shows that students enjoy the expanded sampling of sustainable foods offered in dining halls, like the Davenport College dining hall above.

Overall student satisfaction was up more than five percent over 2005, according to survey data from the past two years. Student satisfaction with dining has improved every year since YSFP debuted in 2003, YSFP co-director Melina Shannon-DiPietro said.

Launched as a pilot program in the Berkeley College dining hall, YSFP’s sustainable food spread to all 12 colleges in 2004 and comprised a quarter of the menu by 2005, though Berkeley remained all-sustainable. This past September, the project completed its pilot phase, with all 12 colleges offering a revamped menu that includes 40 percent YSFP offerings.

Student ratings of the availability of vegetarian options, healthy options and food quality showed the greatest increases in the survey, improving 11.6, 9.4 and 7.5 percent, respectively, from 2005. Administrators said the strong scores were by no means expected.

“We were nervous,” Shannon-DiPietro said. “Opening in the fall we were doing something much more difficult than we had done before.”

The survey also revealed a strong interest in expanding YSFP beyond its current 40 percent stake in dining hall menus. Several months after YSFP doubled in size this fall, almost 90 percent of students surveyed said expanding YSFP’s offerings even further would be “important.” In 2005, with less than a quarter of the menu sustainable, only 76 percent of students said an expansion in YSFP would be a priority.

Dining officials outside the Project were also pleased with the latest progress and said it could prompt further expansion of YSFP.

“I think this year we were particularly impressed with the scores,” said Ernst Huff, the associate vice president for Student Financial and Administrative Services. “We use that information when we develop plans for the future.”

The only categories in which student satisfaction fell between 2005 and 2006 were speed of service and convenience.

University administrators did not attribute the improvements in the survey results solely to YSFP. Dining Services Director Don McQuarrie cited a revamped menu that debuted this fall, training for staff, and improvements to the attitudes of staff and managers as contributing to high student satisfaction.

The priorities for next year’s dining services budget will be set over the next month, Huff said. But the University is aiming for a flat non-salary budget this upcoming fiscal year, so funding for any new initiatives will be limited. Last spring, the administration expected to expand YSFP without increasing the program’s budget due to increased efficiency.

YSFP Co-director Josh Viertel said costs continue to fall as the program grows. The ultimate goal would be to have a 100 percent sustainable menu, Viertel said, but that will likely only be possible in several years.

Not every student is a fan of YSFP’s expansion, however. Jackie Carter ’07, who is in Saybrook, said she was pleased at the beginning of the fall with the Project’s move into every dining hall, but her initial excitement waned as the year progressed.

“I guess I’ve been somewhat disappointed,” she said. “One thing that was nice about just Berkeley was you knew it was great. [Now] there’s no one dining hall you can go to if you want really good food.”

The number of students who said YSFP food is of a higher quality than other dining hall food, 78 percent, is down from last year’s 83 percent. Huff said the “modest” decrease is likely due to more students having access to YSFP food and it losing some of its mystique.

The survey garnered almost 1,500 student responses. Last year, almost 1,950 students responded to the survey, but administrators said the drop in responses was not a problem since the survey still included more than a quarter of the student body.

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