Reflections on the New Dining Hall

“Let’s meet at Narples?” is a relatively recent common question on campus. Swarthmore’s newest facility, officially named the Dining Center, has been open for almost three weeks now. This facility replaces the former dining hall, Sharples, an establishment which was a staple of Swarthmore’s campus for almost sixty years (circa 1964-2022).

The Dining Center is a proud product of the Swarthmore’s Board of Managers’ initiative that began five years ago. In the fall of 2018, Swarthmore President Valerie Smith announced the plan to build a new dining facility and renovate Sharples dining hall. Sharples is to be transformed into a nonacademic, highly resourced student center, located next to the larger, newly built Dining Center. The whole establishment will be called the Dining and Community Commons. This initiative will foster community-building and adequately hold the growing student body. The renovation was largely funded by a $7 million gift from the Barbara and Gil Kemp Foundation. 

The Dining Center is dedicated to providing a better dining experience for Swarthmore students. The Swarthmore Dining webpage states, “We are proud to offer a revitalized dining experience at the new Dining Center! Part of the Dining and Community Commons, the Dining Center offers a greater variety of food choices, increased seating capacity, including outdoor seating, and is fully accessible.”

The new dining facility offers extended hours and late-night dining options as well as more dietary accommodations with its “Free Zone” food station. It is also committed to being more sustainable with solar panels on the roof, all-electric energy using renewable sources, and locally sourced food. 

Although the Dining Center is a both beautiful building and a great addition to the Swarthmore campus, both socially and sustainably, the editorial board agrees the facility could still use some improvements.

Having a sole dining hall on campus fosters community and relationship building. However, this feature leads to heavy student traffic after classes and during dinner time when most of the student body rushes to get a meal. When approaching the dining facility, the entrance line to swipe one’s OneCard is through a single entryway and often goes out the back door. During wintertime, this line outside will be quite uncomfortable and chilly for entrants. To address this problem, students should be able to enter the building from the multiple entryways throughout the building during wintertime.

Upon entering the dining facility, a helpful feature of Sharples dining hall was the main menu of all food offerings listed on a screen. Because the new dining facility has two floors and more food stations, it would be beneficial to add a daily main menu in the entrance of the Dining Center to help students navigate the building. Some students are unable to check the Swarthmore Dash prior to arrival at the dining facility. In addition, the Dash is often not updated to reflect the actual offerings at the Dining Center; students show up expecting dishes that do not actually make an appearance.

This qualm may seem insignificant to most, but the listings of food on the screens at each respective food station are in particularly small font. When waiting in line for food, those with bad eyesight have trouble reading the screens to know what food they are in line to receive. It would be helpful to increase the font sizes on the screens. 

Upon approaching the respective buffet station, students often find a scarcity of food. The Swarthmore dining webpage states there is an increased seating capacity in the Dining Center, both indoor and outdoor, to hold more people than the Sharples dining hall could; however, there is still not enough food to meet the demands of the student population. Even prior to some food stations closing early, certain food offerings are sometimes no longer available during the last hour of allotted meal times. The dining staff should make efforts to supply enough food for all of the diners. In conjunction, there is sometimes a shortage of forks for students. The dining facility should offer more metal forks or wash them faster, so they do not run out of them prior to closing time.

Moreover, food stations, such as Grillin’ Out, Verdant & Vegan, and Daily Kneads, often begin shutting down prior to closing time at 8 p.m. Students rushing to buffet stations right before 8 p.m. find the food stations already closed. To address this problem, the Swarthmore Dash should, instead, show a closing time of 7:45 p.m., or the dining staff should keep buffets open until 8 p.m. 

After getting a plate of food, students often find it extremely difficult to find seating during rush hours. The dining hall is intended to reduce congestion; however, most tables are meant for at least four people, leaving few options for individuals eating by themselves who have no choice but to take up an entire four- or six-person table. Although this would be a longer-term improvement, it would be helpful to replace some of the mid-size tables with smaller-capacity tables. 

When leaving the facility, students sometimes face heavy dish traffic as a result of the heavy student traffic. It would be worthwhile for the Dining Center to reopen the dish drop conveyor belt on the upstairs floor. Its closure may have been due to staffing constraints, but if it is possible to reopen, it would alleviate the problem of dishes piling up on the conveyor belt.

These are all minor improvements for what is ultimately a beautiful and well-run establishment that Swarthmore’s campus is fortunate enough to have. We recognize the college is in a dining transition at this time and that not every minor issue has been resolved yet. These sentiments are mentioned here in order to support the needs and aims of Swarthmore students, who strive to constantly better themselves and their beloved campus. 

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for this comprehensive list – I would say that many of your comments – like the entrance issue, comprehensive menu board, even smaller tables and more seating will be addressed in the final product – i.e. with Sharples being open. The entrance will be through Sharples, and therefore there will be ample space for cueing if needed. The south dining room will add 75 additional seats, and there are small tables and additional seating planned for the area currently being used as the entrance – and many of those are smaller tables.

    the comprehensive checker’s stations will have several large menu boards that will show all the stations before you go in.

    Some of the other items – forks, upstairs dish drop, etc. are products of short staffing – that is something dining is working hard to address, and should improve over time.

    Thanks again – please keep comments coming,

    Susan Smythe – Project Manager

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