Bellevue College Seeks to Engage Students in Food Service Decisions to Improve Dining Experience 

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Bellevue College (BC) food services have only recently reopened as COVID-19 put them on pause. According to an email sent out to students, the Bulldog Bistro, the C Building Coffee Shop and the cafeteria reopened on April 10.

I sat down with Duff Allen, Director of Food & Events at BC, to talk about his vision for the college’s food services and the challenges being faced. As a new addition to the campus — he only came to BC around three months ago — he is passionate and committed to bettering BC food services and engaging the BC community. He discussed building community through food, student engagement with the food choices and making the food good quality. Allen is hopeful that changes will be implemented as soon as this coming fall, though this is not locked in yet. 

Adamant about having food reflect the backgrounds and preferences of the BC community, making the food as diverse as the students, he said: 

“We have a very diverse population on campus, so we want to make sure we have a bunch of different cuisines … One way we can connect from all different backgrounds is that we all eat and we all have our favorite foods … We can connect through food and try different things. It is a little bit harder to translate someone’s home recipe into a production recipe, but I can get pretty close.”

A common complaint about the cafeteria on Yelp is that the food in the cafeteria is “unhealthy” and there isn’t enough variety. His response was that “we want to make sure that we’re supplying food that’s healthy and are things that people want to eat. So, it’s not just going to be burgers and pizza. A little bit of everything.” It sounds like the Food & Services department is going to work on these complaints. Having worked at hospitals, convention centers and restaurants, he is optimistic that the location of food doesn’t have to impact its quality: “Just because it’s cafeteria food doesn’t mean that we can’t have … as good of food as any restaurant around here.” 

One of his ideas for mixing up the food options is to have daily specials. He is interested in student feedback but also has many ideas of his own. “Maybe a salad special. A hot entree special. Teriyaki chicken and rice — that kind of thing.” There was also talk of rebranding the U-building food services: “Maybe it could be a smoothie bar, maybe it could be a boba tea [bar] …I’m open to ideas.” After putting out a survey on the BC FYI for Bulldogs to come up with new ideas for food services in the U building, only four students responded. Allen suggested that a student panel could help contribute ideas.

One of the issues that I believe needs to be improved is the lack of online presence for BC food services, especially the cafeteria. I wasn’t even sure where it existed. Under the Food Services page, only the hours and dates that it’s open are stated. The location and the menu options are unclear (if you’re wondering, the cafeteria is in the C building, past the café). There is also no information on the BC website about the schedule for the food trucks, which students sometimes get emails about. It would be helpful for students if this information was on the website. Hopefully, this issue will be covered soon.

According to Allen, one of the biggest obstacles is that there are only around 25 percent of food service staff compared to before the pandemic. Also, only a portion of students have returned to campus compared to before. The food services rely on student employees. These jobs are helpful to international students, who are only allowed to work on campus, as well as BC food services. They offer part-time work to balance with school work and extra pocket money. So far I only see a part-time barista job posted on the BC food services website, but maybe there will be more jobs posted in the future. 

Bellevue College community, you have the chance to watch the food services evolve into something more students can enjoy. I’d advise you to participate in it!