There’s always plenty of tasty, nutritious food on campus, but it hasn’t always been easy to know exactly when and where to find a favorite dish, or avoid allergens. Starting this week, a new online menu helps diners tailor food searches to their preferences, health needs, and locations.
“I think being able to display this type of information in a more user-centric, holistic way will be a much better experience for everyone,” says Jon Chiappa, senior director for web services.
Dartmouth’s old menu website relied on what Chiappa calls a “hunt-and-peck” approach.
“In other words, I couldn’t look and say, hey, which place is serving a burger? I had to go and look and see what 53 Commons or what the Collis Café was serving, and so on,” says Chiappa. “Using the new site, I can figure out what foods might sound good to me and where they’re being served on that day.”
The online menu shows colorful photographs of available menu items with ingredients, nutritional data and calories, possible allergens, and places where they are being served. Clicking on a heart icon, diners may mark dishes they especially like or want to avoid, and those choices are saved on each user’s personal page.
The new website is a “game-changer,” says Elizabeth Rosenberger, a nutritionist and dining services manager.
“Let’s say you love macaroni and cheese and General Tso’s chicken, which are two of our big hits,” she says. “You save them to your favorites and every time those dishes are served, they’ll pop up on your screen. If you’re allergic, say, to soy or peanuts, dishes containing those ingredients would be hidden.”
Rosenberger, who has worked in Dartmouth’s dining services for 24 years, says students are becoming increasingly discerning about what they eat. “When I first started, it was all about pizza and fries, but now they want to know where their food comes from, how it was prepared, and whether it’s good for them, and whether it’s sustainable for the planet.”
Rosenberger predicts the site will be popular with applicants as well as current community members. “All students living on campus are required to be on the meal plan, so people want to know before they arrive that they can get high-quality, diverse food that meets their needs,” she says.
Eating well at college is so important, says Chiappa, that the web services team insisted on designing the new site “from the ground up” rather than contracting with an outside agency to do the job.
“We had a great partnership with dining services, thanks to the leadership of Dartmouth Dining Director Jon Plodzik,” says Chiappa. “We talked not only to dining service staff, but to students, about how they use the menu and what they were looking for. The end-to-end nature of this project, all the way from initial concept to testing, to design, to all of the back-end development—it was all a really interesting challenge for the web services team to take on. We know it’s going to have a big impact on the quality of campus life.”