May 8, 2007

LU dining announces extensive changes to be made this summer

by Jennifer Schmidt, Assistant News Editor
Liberty Dining, the partnership of Sodexho Dining Services and Liberty University, has announced plans for extensive renovations and expansions of the dining services on Liberty’s campus. According to Ray Riddle, director of operations for Liberty Dining, the plans include not only a complete refurbishment of Reber-Thomas Dining Hall, but also a large expansion of the Campus North dining hall and the new construction of a free-standing restaurant.

Plans to expand and refurbish the existing dining facilities at Liberty have been in the works for the past two years.

“This proposal was made due to the growth of the student body and to keep up with the current trends. We did a lot of homework, visiting schools such as George Mason and Lee University, to see what they do and to bring in new ideas,” said Riddle.

Reber-Thomas Dining Hall will be closed after breakfast on May 19 and the process of remodeling will begin. The main goals for the project are to spread out the flow of traffic and thus decrease the amount of time it takes to get food. There are also plans to revamp the seating arrangements.

Riddle, who has worked with Liberty Dining for the past four years, said, “We want to give Reber-Thomas a fresh facelift, keep up with the times and bring it all into the year 2007.”

Stephanie Place, a sophomore who has worked for over a year and a half as a student manager with Sodexho, said, “I love the look of the new plans with all of the colors and the seating arrangements. It will be much more intimate and won’t have a military feel anymore. Everything will be more personal and will have a cozy atmosphere. Because people can enter from all different directions and all of the food stations will be spread out, the traffic flow will be much faster.”

The remodeling of Reber-Thomas centers upon a huge shift in the purpose of the dining hall. Executive chef Paul Fallon said, “We’re taking food production right in front of the customer. Now it’s all about exhibition and entertainment, not just feeding thousands of students.” He further explained that the idea of a cafeteria was being replaced with the idea of a restaurant.

Because of this approach, food stations will be spread around the perimeter of the building and seating will be separated by decorative partitions.

Junior kinesiology major Lori Dollar said, “I went to a focus group and they asked us what we liked about eating out. Everyone in the room said it was the atmosphere and so that is why they are changing the dining hall around.”

Food quality will also be improved as Riddle explained that a genuine brick oven will be used for making all of the pizzas, and burgers will be charbroiled rather than grilled as they are now.

A new food management system will also be implemented, providing employees and students with complete nutritional guides for any of the food that is served.

Huge expansions will be made at the Campus North dining hall, allowing space for new venues to open.

“We experimented a bit with Chick-fil-A both at the Keyhole and at North and since it was so successful we’re bringing a full Chick-fil-A over to North campus. Our main goal there is to bring in much more variety,” said Riddle.

In addition to a Chick-fil-A, Campus North will also feature a Cyclone Salads, a sushi joint and a second Jazzman’s.

“I’m definitely going to try Cyclone Salads and maybe the sushi. I’m really just excited overall!” said Place.

Perhaps the most ambitious part of the plans will be the construction of a free-standing, full-service restaurant over on East campus. Named “Macel’s” after the wife of Dr. Jerry Falwell, the atmosphere and menu will be strongly reminiscent of a diner.

“The restaurant will be open to the public and will have a regular staff with servers,” said Riddle.

The large draw for students will be the option to pay for their food as part of their meal plan, to use their meal plan points or to use a combination of both.

So far, the student response has been tremendous. “We hear lots of people saying that it is about time these changes were made and that the plans are excellent,” said Riddle.

Dollar agrees, “I think that the changes are great and that they’ll bring in a lot more people.”

Construction on Reber-Thomas and Campus North dining facilities is expected to be completed before the start of the fall semester. The restaurant is slated to open near the middle of the semester. A large campaign, spearheaded by a traveling concessions trailer, will be kicked off with the start of classes in August to advertise all of the changes and the new food options.

“We are really excited about all of this and want students to feel that they don’t have to go off campus to get great food,” said Riddle.

Contact Jennifer Schmidt at jschmidt@liberty.edu.
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