URI dining services nabs two national awards

Butterfield expansion and Candyland-themed dinner earn gold honors from national food services association

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URI student Shannon Mora (’17), left, of New York, and Megan Conti, a food service administrator for dining services, were all smiles at the Mainfare Dining Hall’s award-winning Candyland-themed dinner event, held in March. Photo by David Bilotto, Artist, Dining Services
Students enjoy the creative talents of the school’s dining services staff during Mainfare Dining Hall’s award-winning Candyland-themed dinner event, held in March. Photo by David Bilotto, Artist, Dining Services

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 8, 2017 — The University of Rhode Island dining services staff commits itself to giving students a quality dining experience on a daily basis, and each semester, members of the staff put in a great deal of extra effort to create a memorable experience at one special event.

Those efforts were rewarded recently when URI’s dining services won two gold honors in the Large School category of the National Association of College and University Food Services Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards.

“I am incredibly proud of the amazing customer service, the excellent quality of food, and the fun our staff brings to the University community,” said Kathy Collins, vice president for Student Affairs. “It is an honor to be recognized as one of the best dining operations in the country. These two awards show that URI’s reputation academically, athletically, and in student services continues to be on the rise. We are fortunate to have such a talented team working in URI dining.”

Wins in the Residential Dining Concepts and Residential Special Event categories make this the sixth year since 2008 that the University has earned recognition from the food services association. URI topped competitors from schools such as the University of Connecticut, Michigan State University, the University of Georgia and Penn State University.

“It is hard work and the staff is dedicated to making an exceptional dining experience for each and every student,” said Steve Mello, director of Dining and Retail Food Services at URI. “They know students by their first names, and they quickly learn each student’s specific preferences. Some students just order their ‘regular,’ or can’t wait to have a staff member make them something special after a tough exam. My staff probably interacts with these students three or four times a day. This is the students’ dining room and we are happy to serve them and make them feel at home.”

URI’s submission for the Residential Dining Concept award highlighted the recent expansion of Butterfield Dining Hall, which added 210 seats to bring its dining capacity to 560 customers. Despite nearly doubling capacity, Butterfield still provides students with plenty of custom options and a diverse selection of foods from the grill, deli or salad bar.

Many of the foods are locally sourced from Rhode Island vendors and students can choose from vegan, vegetarian, Kosher and other ethnic food varieties.

The submission also showed how dining services is using technology to enhance the student dining experience, as it highlighted URI’s dining services app that includes daily menus at all the dining halls, live camera views that show students how busy the dining halls may be and even allows them to add funds to their meal plans.

While dining services endeavors to keep student favorites on the menu, the staff also breaks up the routine with daily specials and special occasions, such as “A Taste of Rhode Island,” Thanksgiving dinner, “The Bounty of the Sea” and a Hawaiian luau.

One such event earned URI its second gold. URI held its “Candyland” special dining event at Mainfare Dining Hall in Hope Commons on March 8, when the dining services staff decorated the hall to look like the classic board game.

The staff cooked and served Candyland-themed foods, using candy in savory dishes, or creating dishes that looked like sweet confections. Menu items included “Lemon Drop” tortellini, meatball “cupcakes,” and even fried candy bars.

Music such as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Strawberry Fields” was played during the course of the 5-hour event, which took almost a year to plan and execute.

“The staff comes together with ideas and we seem to feed off each other until we agree on an event and start to build concepts and menus around it,” Mello said. “We use the down time between semesters to make some of the decorations and test menu ideas. I find that the idea that I reject is usually the one that the staff convinces me to use and it becomes the winner. Go figure!”

Much like last year’s Brazilian Carnival-themed event, the Candyland night was a roaring success. Serving 2,564 students, the event attracted more than 500 more customers to Mainfare Dining Hall than an average Wednesday night.

“My staff is fantastic,” Mello said. “We were up against some prestigious institutions and this honor is a reflection of the good work they do every day.”