The scene at Shenkman Hall during the lunch rush Wednesday was exactly what GW Dining envisioned when it announced it was undergoing a new, transformative dining experience in August 2021.
Four first-year students, one wearing a FC Bayern Munich FC soccer jersey and the other in a Leo Messi Paris St. Germain kit, sat with one another presumably discussing the world’s game while each eating a completely different meal unique to their own likings.
The spring semester openings of Shenkman Hall’s all-you-care-to-eat dining hall and marketplace marked the culmination of the project built to enhance the student experience by building community with open-style cafeterias offering affordable, quality and sustainable culinary options.
Shenkman Hall, following in the footsteps of fellow Foggy Bottom residence hall Thurston and Mount Vernon Campus’ Pelham Commons at West Hall, offers a variety of food stations ranging from vegetarian and vegan options to homestyle meals, to breakfast all day and an allergen-free station. Even those who self-define themselves as picky eaters, such as the Messi-jersey donning and first-year business major Emanuel Militello, can find something to their liking at one of the three all-you-care-to-eat facilities.
“I am a picky eater, but there’s a lot of things you can do and find here,” Militello said. “So, that’s good.”
The future of GW Dining is here and now, as students are now offered a meal-swipe plan that opens access to these halls with the all-you-care-to-eat style of dining. Even though phase one is complete, Associate Vice President of Business Services Seth Weinshel said the transformation initiative is still in infancy. GW Dining will continue seeking feedback and gradually roll out new things once certain meal-deal sites are up and running.
Weinshel, who estimated GW Dining is serving up to 33,000 meals per week with the dining halls now all up and running, looks forward to enhancing an experience he descried as quite positive in its early going.
“From our standpoint, we are really working on changing culture around community and quality, affordable food,” he said. “Our long-term plan is to be able to offer our students the best residential college dining program in the country.”
The District House basement also opened a revamped dining hall in September with new cuisine choices and technology updates. Vendors there include True Burger, Halal Shack, D.C. Taco House, Crisp and DH Pizza & Pasta Co.
For the 2023-2024 academic year, GW students will be the offered the unlimited meal plans where they can eat as much as they want while in the dining hall during a meal period. Once per hour, students can dine at any of the all-you-care-to-eat facilities and District House. All first-year students living in the residence halls will participate in this unlimited meal plan, while second-, third- and fourth-year students living on-campus can choose to participate in the unlimited plan or choose a block meal plan of their choosing. The unlimited meal plan also comes with $200 of D.C. Dining Dollars, which can help cover meals or snacks at more than 80 dining partners across campus.
“You can really get your money’s worth. That’s the goal,” said GW Dining Executive Director Douglas Frazier. “The hope is that students find things they really like.”
Some vendors are now open to meal swipes, including Sushi Do at Shenkman Hall and GW Hillel. At Sushi Do, students can use their meal swipes to get a variety of rolls and a bowl. At GW Hillel, a meal swipe can get a student a chicken sandwich or a bowl.
Starting soon, a meal-swipe can be used at the Shenkman marketplace, where students can get items such as smoothies or açaí bowls, similar to how students can use a meal swipe to get breakfast at the Buff and Brew Coffee Shop in MVC’s Ames Hall.
First-year Milken Institute School of Public Health student Anna Kate Ward likes that option so much, in fact, that she sometimes takes the Mount Vernon Express from Foggy Bottom to MVC just to get a cup of coffee.
“It’s definitely that I’m not paying $5 for a cup of coffee, and it’s good coffee at the Vern,” she said.
While building community is a staple of the new transformative dining experience, it also caters to those who are on the run thanks to technology services. Students can order to-go meals using the Boost Mobile App and pick up their food. The Boost App on Android or iOS is available in the app store or by texting BOOST to 99299.
Even stations within the dining halls can be made for a student on the-run, such as premade sandwiches at the deli.
“It is quick and easy,” said first-year computer engineering major Angie Rahman.
Next academic year will be the first in which the full transformative dining experience is available for its entirety. GW Dining and university officials will spend the rest of this current one seeking feedback and finding more ways to enhance a product they believe is already making a difference tackling food insecurities.
“We are continuing to hear from students that they don’t have to worry about the budget and that we have good options,” Weinshel said. “We are going to have more in the future, and we are constantly listening to the feedback about what we can do to make the program better.”
GW Dining has made flexibility and choice focal points in the project as food options vary to support a diverse range, health and dietary needs, activities, schedules and also culture and identity.
That is on display this month, as GW Dining is offering to-go meals for practicing Muslim students observing Ramadan who will be unable to utilize dining facilities during their normal operating hours.
Students will not need to opt-in or register, but rather can obtain these meals utilizing their current dining plan. When visiting the dining hall, a student can simply let the front staff member know that they are observing Ramadan and would like a Suhoor breakfast meal.
These will be pre-packaged meals that students can take away the night before, and then eat the next morning before sunrise. These meals are available at Shenkman, Thurston and Pelham Commons. This program will run through April 21.