BU Today

Campus Life

Food: What Students Really Want

Results in from latest dining survey


What do you want to see on campus? Let us know on Twitter at @butoday.

This just in: burritos are the new pizza, the BU Platter rules, the George Sherman Union Food Court could use a Taco Bell, and lines are too long at Warren Towers. All of this is revealed in the annual BU Dining Survey, along with a heaping portion of students’ food preferences, peeves, and dining behavior.

How do you feed 16,295 active people day in and day out, satisfying tastes ranging from mac ’n cheese to tempeh curry, with as few blunders as possible? On the Charles River Campus, the task falls to the staff of Auxiliary Services and Dining Services. Students may grouse about sodden pasta or crawling sandwich lines, but at least once a year the management listens and takes heed. After the crunching of numbers, the 33-question anonymous Student Dining Satisfaction Survey is the voice that asks for more soups, more sustainability, and later hours. The survey results can put the kibosh on a GSU franchise (so long, Ben & Jerry’s) or persuade the powers that be to abandon their effort to take the hallowed BU Platter upscale. It’s a chorus of praise (for variety and freshness) and complaint (about peak-hour shortages and some outmoded facilities).

Overall, though, the survey reflects a high rate of satisfaction, says Webb Lancaster, director of operations for Auxiliary Services. This year, almost three out of four students said that Dining Services provided a “good to excellent dining experience.” And things seem to be getting better. Students rated their overall dining experience 11 percent higher than in the 2008 survey, and ratings for food variety soared nearly 31 percent. Highest marks went to the Fresh Food Company at West Campus, followed by Warren Towers and Towers, with the older, smaller dining rooms at Myles Standish and Shelton Halls predictably trailing in favorability.

With more than 6,000 respondents this past fall — an increase of about 3,000 over 2008 — the online survey is the most important planning tool for an operation that covers not just residence hall dining rooms, but dorm-based retailers and franchises at the GSU Food Court. Craig Hill, associate vice president for Auxiliary Services, says administrators share survey results with each campus food service director and work with them to forge “action plans.” When there’s a change inspired by the survey, students get the details from a series of “We Heard You” posters. Barbara Laverdiere, Dining Services head of marketing, says those changes are driven mainly by the data, but also by comments on the survey form. “We read every comment,” she says.

Hill and Lancaster, along with dining services directors Laverdiere and Scott Rosario, director of marketing, have been chewing over results of the most recent survey, and they were surprised at some findings. Considering how difficult it can be for a family of five to agree on what to eat, BU is mostly successful at pleasing palates bland and sophisticated. If on-campus students are what they eat, they are part-Mexican, part-Italian, and large part BU Platter. There are gender differences: campus women like more bagels than men do, but men edge out women when it comes to Rhett’s burgers and Panda Express. Four times more women than men drink tea. And students hone their preferences over time: freshmen flock to Starbucks, while Dunkin’ Donuts’ wide appeal holds steady through graduation. Foreign students love the create-your-own grilled cheese bar and Warren Towers’ burger blowout.

Here’s a dietary snapshot of students living on campus: nearly 9 percent are vegetarian. Of the 15 percent who have food allergies, dairy allergies are most common, followed by allergies to nuts, fish, gluten, soy, and eggs. The Fresh Food Company gets a 52 percent in student popularity, 25 percent favor Warren Towers, and the remainder are loyal in equal measure to old-timers Myles Standish and Shelton. Of all five residence dining halls, Warren Towers was cited most often (by 27.2 percent of respondents) as needing “to improve its overall dining experience.” The reasons include: the quality is lower because the food is mass-produced, there are too few meal choices, the food often runs out, and the lines are too long, especially at peak hours. But Warren may be a victim of its own success: it’s a favorite of Bay State Road residents, and it draws defectors from Shelton and Myles.

While nearly 70 percent of students gave high ratings (“5” or above, with “1” poor and “7” excellent) to their overall dining experience, they were slightly less enthusiastic about food taste (about 62 percent) and appearance (60 percent) and about half gave highest marks for food variety. Dining Services’ convenience was praised by 77 percent and nearly three quarters say they are very pleased with staff friendliness and appearance and cleanliness of the service area.

What do students really want when choosing a place to grab a meal or snack on Comm Ave? Food quality, convenience, cleanliness, and “overall experience” top the list — no surprise there — but nearly 80 percent of survey respondents also place a high level of importance on staff appearance and food temperature, both of which are slightly more important than speed of service, food freshness, and food variety. As for the ever-evolving offerings at the Union Food Court, 15.7 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn’t mind if Cranberry Farms were replaced with something else, 17.6 percent would be fine saying adios to Caprito Burrito, and 14.2 percent could say arrivederci to Amalfi Oven with no regrets. Copper Kettle and Sushi Bar were deemed expendable by around 12 percent.

The survey showed strong student support for stepping up recycling and sustainability efforts, including starting a compost pile, adding sorted recycling bins, limiting paper napkin use, offering a choice of dishes or paper plates for late night. Laverdiere says there was some grumbling when Dining Services dispensed with trays in September 2008, but students quickly got over it, and the University is now saving water and cutting food waste.

Hill says BU tries to fit its food offerings to a range of lifestyles, and it seems to be succeeding, with flexible meal plans and ethnic specials at dining halls. When it comes to special diets, 87 percent of students say they have no restrictions, vegans comprise only 1.1 percent, and vegetarians make up around 10 percent. But, says Hill, 70 percent of campus menu offerings are vegetarian by default.

While using surveys to determine the future of dining choices is generally reliable, Hill points out that it is not foolproof. One memorable misstep was a Ben & Jerry’s franchise, which appeared on the wish lists of large numbers of students.

“When we put it at the GSU, everyone was talking about it,” says Hill, “but the sales just didn’t hold up.” The ice cream vendor was replaced by Jamba Juice, a West Coast franchise that had gotten much less support on the survey. The result? Students loved it.

Who would you keep at the GSU? Give the boot? Let us know in the comments below, or RT @butoday on Twitter.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.


46 Comments on Food: What Students Really Want

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 7:19 am

    salad bar at GSU

    Many people I know have consistently boycotted the salad bar at the GSU because it is not self-serve, as it is everyhere else in the US! What if I just want greens?
    What if I want more cukes?
    Come on! Why does the “bottom line” and profit have to rule even a SALAD BAR!!!

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 8:13 am

    we really should have a Taco Bell. I think it would do great because it’s cheap and tastes good. There’s no point on having both Olecito and Caprito Burrito. Also Though I absolutely love sushi, the Sushi Bar could step it up on quality. Other than that the dining halls need to cool down with the serving sizes. It shouldn’t be that hard to have a full meal under 400 calories. Nearly everything that isn’t labeled Sargent Choice at west is at least 600 calories, some even reaching 1200 calories.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 8:30 am

    we really should have a Taco Bell. I think it would do great because it’s cheap and tastes good. There’s no point on having both Olecito and Caprito Burrito. Also Though I absolutely love sushi, the Sushi Bar could step it up on quality. Other than that the dining halls need to cool down with the serving sizes. It shouldn’t be that hard to have a full meal under 400 calories. Nearly everything that isn’t labeled Sargent Choice at west is at least 600 calories, some even reaching 1200 calories.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 8:33 am

    Where is my tacobell?

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 9:22 am

    What is the BU Platter?

    Could someone please provide a description of the BU Platter? Thanks!

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 9:30 am

    One person's opinion

    I am so sick of Cranberry Farms changing it’s face every other week. I like the place because I can get good, warm vegetables. When it’s gone, I’m left with cold salad, which I’m not a fan of. Please keep Cranberry Farms, or at the very least, get another plain vegetable option!

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 9:31 am

    More Options Please

    Burrito joints are great, but it would be nice to not have that always be the go to (2 Qdobas, Boca Grande, Chipolte, Olecito, GSU…going a bit on overload with the Burrito joints). Can you add something a little bit different? Perhaps Pita Pit? Fresh City? Quiznos? Wendy’s? Another Subway? Also, the Bruegger’s is pretty sketch. Have had bugs in my food there three different times! Have stopped going all together.

  • Deborah Amori on 04.06.2010 at 9:35 am

    Jamba Juice

    I love Jamba Juice, but I really, really, really wish it was open in the morning. That’s when I need a smoothie. If it were open at 8, I would pick one up on the way to work and I’d be SO HAPPY. There are plenty of coffee places open around BU at that hour, but no smoothie bars unless I go all the way over to Landmark Center.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 9:38 am

    Taco Bell for sure. Absolutely.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 9:56 am

    Keep Cranberry Farms!!!!

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 9:59 am


    Sure it is nice having Starbucks around, what where is the love for Dunkin Donuts? It would be great to have one somewhere in the middle of campus, at the GSU or somewhere by CAS.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 10:18 am

    Don’t forget to edit your article. In the beginning, it says that vegetarians make up 9% but then that number changes to 10% near the end.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 10:21 am

    Cheap Fast Food

    All of the fast food around campus is expensive fast food. Qdoba, Chipotle, U-Burger, Canes. All very good, but all expensive as far as fast food goes. How about getting a TACO BELL and BURGER KING back on campus? Or, if adding two places is too much, how about one of the hybrid Taco Bell/A&W?

    For the guy above, a BU Platter is served at Late Night and consists of 3 chicken fingers, 4 mozzarella sticks, and a bunch of curly fries. Perfect at midnight.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 10:34 am

    No Taco Bell!

    Caprito Burrito is fresh and offers tons of choices Taco Bell doesn’t – vegetables and regular beans instead of refried for example.
    Why do we need a giant, greasy fast food franchise like Taco Bell when we already have fresher, healthier burritos with more choices?
    We don’t!

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 10:52 am

    yes to taco bell!

    i would love to have taco bell back i have no idea why they got rid of it last year. and cranberry farms is great too, it’s the only other place aside from panda express that i go to so i hope they don’t get rid of that!

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:03 am

    taco bell makes total sense. Good food, cheap.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:08 am

    No Taco Bell!

    Sooo unhealthy. Taco Bell is a terrible idea. Right up there with all other fast food joints.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:14 am

    dining in medical campus...

    Can BU medical campus conduct a survey and some changes too? The mere thought of having to eat the same thing at the same little restaurant makes me depressed. There is no variety, no recycling and sustainability whatsoever. Main campus is heaven, but unfortunately it is too far away from us.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:20 am

    i like the wings venue that temporarily replaced cranberry farms. they should get rid of something and replace it with wings

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:22 am

    YOU HAVE TO KEEP CRANBERRY FARMS!! and stop changing it’s food offerings!!….i love the fact that i can go in on any given day and just get some comfort food instead of just on thanksgiving…

    also, taco bell was awesome and super cheap for budget conscious college students….also if i compared olecito to caprito burrito…i would keep caprito….and dunkin donuts would be pretty profitable if in the middle of campus b/c it is also pretty cheap and popular although I can see how it would compete with Einstein’s and Starbucks. I also think a frozen yogurt place that offers fruit, you know like pinkberry or yoberry or what angora cafe does with its frozen yogurt along with a bubble tea place would also be really popular and appeal to the school’s asian population and be something new for those who’ve never had frozen yogurt with fruit toppings or bubble tea. this could be a combo place because a hotspot is PC cafe that offers both options, yet it’s very far, all the way on harvard ave.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:27 am

    some new ideas

    we should definitely definitely keep cranberry farms and keep it how it is without changing it’s food offerings. also how about adding a frozen yogurt/bubble tea place at gsu. i think that would be a great idea and appeal to a lot of different people and also be something new too. i’ve seen this at other campuses and it is always hugely popular and profitable. you may think that it would compete with starbucks and jamba but it’s just different and i think it would do just as well. a fast food option either wendys or BK or McDonald’s or taco bell would be awesome to have back and I really don’t think we need to have BOTH Caprito Burrito and Olecito…one of those should go.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:29 am

    lets get a wings place on campus. take out anything other than cranberry farms

  • Megan on 04.06.2010 at 11:47 am


    I wish they served a wider variety of fresh fruit everyday, instead of just cantaloupes and melons. I also wish Panera would take our convenience points, that would be amazing.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:48 am

    Go taco bell!!! Also way to go BUToday, nice job making a survey that still suggests substantial dissatisfaction sound like everyone is happy! Oh the perversion of statistical analysis.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 12:38 pm

    froyo would make life so much better

    I’ll admit, I don’t eat that much at the gsu. I live in west, west is the best and its just so convenient. But lets be honest, even west gets old. You start seeing the same dishes every day with no variety, despite that there are a ton of options. They’re still the same options, and I don’t think that people are realizing that….
    Someone said something about fruit. Please, for the life of me, give us more fruit!! Like, cut fruit that is not slices of cantaloupe or honeydew, because A) its pretty damn hard to eat that melon when it is still on the rind, and B) we need variety that is not soggy apples. Strawberries? (good) Pineapple? Yeah, they go quick, but just stock up because everyone loves them and it encourages people to eat fruit. Thats a good thing.
    And finally, every time I go to the GSU, i get one of three things: sushi, cranberry farms, and panda. I think that more people like cranberry farms than you think…
    Now, if you guys are truly looking for a new thing at the gsu, which I think is a great idea, look no further than a frozen yogurt place. They have pinkberry in NYC, but around here they have red mango and berry line. both are exceptional and would make a ton of money at a place like the gsu. Im guessing especially among girls, but hey, thats just an assumption. But it’s a great healthy alternative to ice cream. And if they happen to sell bubble tea, well that would just be dandy. Because bubble tea is possibly the greatest drink on earth.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 12:39 pm

    Keep Cranberry Farms

    Count me in as a Cranberry Farms supporter. It would be a mistake to get rid of this place. Aside from Panda Express, it’s just about the only place you can get a real meal. If you want to add variety to its offerings, you can offer a weekly special like wings, kielbasa, curry or whatever else but please do not touch the turkey. Some of us want our Thanksgiving meal — or just the sides — everyday!

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 1:15 pm

    How about more things that take dinning points!

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 1:46 pm

    How about asking FACULTY AND STAFF what we might like as well? We spend a lot of money at these places too, especially the food court at GSU.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 2:45 pm

    Cranberry YES Frozen SOFT Yogurt YES

    Cranberry Farms, the old way, offers a “real” food option that is hearty and just plain good. Sides should include two well-cooked green/orange veggies, i.e. not starches. Cranberry Farms chicken and turkey is like I fantasize my mother would have made if she hadn’t been working all the time. Why does its menu have to change? Thanksgiving dinner never changes and many people love knowing that it won’t.

    The idea of adding frozen yogurt is excellent, if it’s soft serve and not hard. dipped.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 3:35 pm

    Taco Bell, GSU, Dining Halls

    Taco Bell sounds like a great idea. I remember looking forward to it when I was visiting as a Senior in high school. Then I came to BU as a freshman, and the Taco Bell was gone! Get rid of Caprito Burrito. The sushi really needs to be of better quality and there need to be more vegetarian sushi options. As far as the dining halls go, there could be more variety at Warren for sure. West is great the way it is! All of the dining halls need to be open later than 8 or 9pm.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 10:15 pm

    BU had Ben and Jerry’s? And it wasn’t popular???

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 10:32 pm


    I suspect there are way more than 1.1% vegans (myself vegans). If the survey was only sent to people who had a meal-plan the previous year, then we would be underrepresented – the reason is that most vegans I know chose to live off campus to be able to cook their own food instead of getting a dining plan, meaning that fewer vegans (and possibly fewer vegetarians as a whole) took the dining hall survey to begin with, which is a form of bias in the data (although if the survey was sent to everyone, regardless of meal plan status, then it’s not biased.) In any case, we’re good cooks =) Props to the dining hall for collecting student opinions. I hope they keep up the good work.

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:11 pm

    Close later!

    After my club meetings, etc., I can’t get back to the dining hall in time to eat, and the GSU is already closed. I hate the junk food at late night. There is no reason that the GSU food court should pack up at 8:30 when half its customers will be awake for another 3.5 hours! That’s my two cents…

    Oh, and Taco Bell is an AWFUL, AWFUL idea. Sure it would make a lot of money, if that’s all anyone cares about. A: There are way too many Mexican places around as it is, and B: Taco Bell is the worst possible “Mexican” place to have. Horribly unhealthy. Who’s worried about calories in the *dining hall food* and still wants a Taco Bell?!…

    Oh and I wish West had pasta like Warren does…but if it did, that would be all I ever ate!

  • Anonymous on 04.06.2010 at 11:27 pm

    Burger King and Dunkin Donuts

    BURGER KING would be amazing. I would go there all the time if we had one on campus because it’s affordable and it’s better than burritos, pizza, or sushi. Also definitely more Dunkin Donuts on campus.

  • Anonymous on 04.07.2010 at 12:16 am

    AY DIOS MIO!!!!

    YO QUIERO TACO BELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous on 04.07.2010 at 12:27 am

    Keep Cranberry Farms--It's Fricken Delicious

    As a graduating senior, the fate of Cranberry Farms shouldn’t really matter to me.

    But it does. It’s my favorite place in the GSU. It’s delicious, it’s hearty, you can have veggies, it’s hot, and again, delicious.

    I get pissed off every time I come to the GSU and the new flavor of the week is in Cranberry Farms’ spot. Get rid of something else! You saw that more folks would be fine without Caprito Burrito! Don’t take away our Cranberry Farms!

    The turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and stuffing is just fricken awesome. And put gravy on it? I’m sold. And that mac and cheese…what do we do when we need to grab something fast and delicious while we’re on the go?

    Don’t do it BU. Just don’t. I’ve had many a good meal there over my 4 years, and I’d like other incoming students to be able to have the same.

  • Anonymous on 04.07.2010 at 1:25 pm

    Isn’t the new goal of our country to stop obesity? If you put in Taco Bell, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, and whatever other fast food restaurants students say they want, everyone is going to be obese. There is no need for places like that in the GSU, especially since Rhett’s has burgers, fries, and ice cream. The restaurants that are already in there are fattening enough, so I think there’s a need for a healthier option. Yes, you have Loose Leafs, but eating salad after salad just gets boring. We need healthier options.

  • Anonymous on 04.07.2010 at 2:42 pm

    Long live Caprito

    People who think that caprito should go are crazy. I love that place it’s so convenient. The options are great and it’s the best place to go when you are really hungry.

  • Anonymous on 04.08.2010 at 9:52 am


    PLEASE DON’T GET RID OF CRANBERRY FARMS! They have the most worthy menu item at the GSU: the Junior Roast Beef Sandwich for ONLY $3.25! This is the most cost-effective item in the entire facility not only because it’s delicious, but also because you really do get your $3.25 worth. They really pack it on with meat. For $3.25, you’d expect a measly sandwich with barely anything on it, but Cranberry Farms gives a generous amount. And for only $1.90 you can get a side! That makes for a perfect and affordable meal! Also, can the flavor of the week please be moved to another location?! I hate it when I walk into the GSU and see that it has replaced Cranberry Farms when that’s the first place I go to everytime I decide to eat at the GSU. (I live at West).

  • Anonymous on 04.08.2010 at 5:11 pm

    Cranberry Farms the only draw to Union Court

    I am a BU staff member and have been working here for well over 10 years. Seriously, the only place I ever even THINK about going at the Union Court/GSU is Cranberry Farms. Besides the DELICIOUS sandwiches (Gourmet Gobbler, anyone?), I love that I can actually pick up a real dinner, like a quarter chicken and two hot vegetables, for less than the cost of Boston market and much better quality. The last 2 times I decided to stop at the GSU, there were other temporary places at the Cranberry Farms kiosk. The second time it happened I decided to try the test place and had the mac & cheese. Don’t get me wrong – it was very tasty – but it also had about 8 times the fat and calories of a plain turkey dinner with green veggies (which is also delicious). I do love a good burrito, but as others have pointed out, there about 6 other burrito places in a 3-block radius of the GSU, so please get rid of Caprito Burrito instead of Cranberry Farms!

  • Anonymous on 04.09.2010 at 7:19 pm


    Please do not remove the Sushi bar in any case!!! It is amazing we are even able to have access to such “delicacies” in a college food court! Thank you :)

  • Anonymous on 04.12.2010 at 2:06 pm

    Stop messing with my Cranberry Farms. End of.

  • amlaskow on 04.27.2010 at 5:31 pm

    This entire week we had “Earth Week” in the dining halls, during which we were served “organic food.” I did enjoy the food at first, but then I thought that … mixed message. Why is it that we only have “organic food” options one week, during “earth week”. Could it be that we really do care about organic food options, and a healthier-earth conscious lifestyle? Or is it that our food and dining budget only affords us one week of these options.

    I appreciate what BU dining does from time to time, and I get it, there is a recession and BU as a money making entity doesn’t make that much. But what bothers me is that, if in fact our school does promote
    “organic-healthy options”, why are we supporting so much food that is part of “Food, Inc.” (i.e. Insanely large amounts of food, tons of beef, eggs, and pork at very cheap prices from various questionable suppliers with questionable safety and regulation practices). I hate to speculate, so if these food suppliers aren’t like all the others that we hear about who have questionable ethics, then w/e. I want answers because, to me it seems disingenuous to promote “Earth Week” for only a week, then go back to all of the large food distributors for the other 51 weeks of the year.

    Its not like I’m saying that our dining halls are not doing a great job. I
    am always grateful to have something to eat, because not everyone is so fortunate, but I really I feel compelled to hold our school accountable.

  • Anonymous on 05.11.2010 at 11:29 pm

    Au Bon Pain

    I was a student back in the early 00’s (when Ben & Jerrys and Burger King were still around) and I ALWAYS wished for an Au Bon Pain to be put in the GSU. It has something for everyone…everything is fresh…lots of options…delicious and reasonably priced! There used to be one at Copley that I went to all the time, and I longed for one closer to campus. Oh well…

  • Anonymous on 10.04.2011 at 8:28 am

    I would definitely back the Taco Bell option. It’s fast, cheap and it tastes good. It also has some (relatively) healthy choices. I think it would be a huge hit with students. It should never have been replaced with a 7th Starbucks to begin with.

    Also, although dining halls need to cut the portion sizes and be a little more nutritious. Use more spices and flavors. Also don’t use hormone fed meat. Last time I checked, most people don’t want to eat hormones. We pay $4000 for the dining plan. Step it up.

  • Christina on 03.10.2012 at 1:23 pm

    I must say, that I just checked out Cranberry Farms for the first time the other day and fell in love with it. I am so happy that there is a place on campus that serves home-style for a real home-cooked meal feeling. And it is quite filling too, especially for dinner. Pizza, Cheeseburgers, salads, sandwiches, and everything else are great too, but sometimes and usually, the taste of a home-y cooked meal does it all. :-)

Post Your Comment

(never shown)