Five students from Branford, Saybrook and Jonathan Edwards Colleges attended the inaugural Roundtable Dining Discussion Tuesday evening to discuss Yale’s residential college dining system over dinner.

The meeting, which took place in the Jonathan Edwards Junior Common Room, was the first in a series of discussions organized by the Student Dining Advisory Committee that allow students from groups of three colleges to speak directly with Yale Dining officials and ask questions about the University’s dining services. Residential Dining Director Regenia Phillips, who attended the meeting, said the roundtable was the first event of its kind and was an important step toward building positive relationships between students and dining staff.

“The dining staff is held accountable to me, but they work hard for you guys,” said Phillips. “Food is so important to the Yale community.”

Communication between students and Yale Dining employees is often hampered because students hesitate to approach staff for fear of bothering the workers, Jonathan Edwards dining hall manager Russ Alling said. Improved communication — such as students requesting a dish refill — would allow dining staff to better serve the members of their colleges, he added.

Alling, who was among three residential dining hall managers in attendance at the roundtable, explained Yale dining procedures and answered student questions alongside Phillips during the roughly 30-minute discussion.

Of the five students who attended, two floated concerns about menu inconsistencies among the colleges, while all asked technical questions about how dining staff prepare meals. One student asked how vocal Yale’s vegan community is, while another questioned what college dining halls do with leftovers each day.

Students also asked the dining officials to comment on traditional rivalries among the 12 residential colleges over who has the best food and service.
Phillips and the three dining hall managers agreed that the physical layouts of college eateries impact students’ dining experience. Though ingredients and menus are identical in all colleges, Phillips said differences in chefs can result in slight variations among dining halls.

“There is a subtle competition among colleges where some staff strive to the best,” Phillips said. “I am not going to standardize everything.”

Allison Lazarus ’14 said she was impressed by the dining officials who spoke at the roundtable and the specificity of the information they provided.

“It made me feel like they cared,” Lazarus said. “After a summer where I had to do cooking for myself, Yale dining seems luxurious.”

More roundtable discussions will follow in the coming week, said Julie Botnick ’14, a student sustainability coordinator for Yale Dining. Though three colleges are invited to each roundtable, Botnick said some meetings may be “compressed” as almost no students from Ezra Stiles or Morse have signed up to attend their colleges’ meeting on Thursday. Student interest is higher in colleges such as Davenport, she added.

Two students interviewed — one who missed the Branford talk and another who does not plan to attend Morse’s meeting — said they thought the event was promoted poorly.

Morsel Tierney Larson ’15 said that though dining is an important subject for Yale students, she felt advertising efforts for the talk were relatively unsuccessful in generating student interest.

The roundtable dinner for Calhoun, Silliman and Timothy Dwight students is slated for Nov. 7.