Where’s the Best Food on Campus?

By Gus Hoffmann

During the college application process, prospective students travel the country and visit universities. Oftentimes, a key component of the college tour is showing the dining halls, explaining the meal plan, and highlighting every single college’s amazing cuisine. I remember zoning out as the tour guide explained the college’s food plan. Generally, prospective students are more concerned about the academic standing of the university, the social life, and extracurriculars than a university’s food distribution system. However, once you arrive at college you realize how important the quality and accessibility of your next meal is, especially if you have food preferences.

We at 127 were curious about Denisonians’ food preferences. From just over 500 respondents surveyed in February 2022, we tracked where students think the best food comes from on campus, broken down by grade, location, and food preferences.

Across the board, Slayter came in as the champion as the best dining hall on the Hill. Slayter is the ideal location to grab a snack in between classes and is the home of many administrative offices – Slayter has a lot of foot traffic. It could be the most popular because students across grade and major have lots of opportunity to grab a bite there. Also, Slayter is unique in the food it offers. Dining Halls like Huffman and Curtis have a rotating menu with different food options every day. Although this variety might be nice, it might not be uniformly well liked. Conversely, Slayter has the greasy reliable food most people enjoy – egg sandwiches, burgers, and fries. Lastly, Slayter is also a social spot on campus, a hub for hanging out and catching up with friends.

Another interesting finding from these survey results is that, as students get older, they prefer their own cooking rather than the food the dining halls provide. By the time you’re a senior, trust me, you’re sick of the food and are ready for a change of pace. There are only so many Slayter burgers you can eat until you start feeling the effects. Second, once you become a Junior you have the opportunity to live in apartments. Since these dorms have a kitchen, students no longer have to rely on the dining halls for their food. That explains why Juniors and Seniors have higher rates of preferring to make their own food – because they have the ability to.

The graph below depicts food provider preferences at Denison broken down by grade and dietary preferences. Due to the variety of food preferences: vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, allergies, and others we have broken down survey results into plant eaters versus meat eaters. Across the board, the findings show that plant eaters prefer to make meals in their own room. Denison dining halls are definitely meat-oriented – rarely is there a meal that does not have meat as the centerpiece. The vegetarian meals they offer often just sit out there, unattended, and usually untouched. For plant eaters, if they can’t make a meal in their own room they are likely to seek sustenance in Slayter, perhaps because Slayter allows for some customization and some of the food they offer is sold packaged. For plant eaters, Slayter does not limit students to specific meals; they can walk in and choose what they want. Additionally, if you walk into Slayter and don’t see anything you like, you can just walk out and go elsewhere. In the dining halls, you have to swipe before you enter, which means if you walk in and don’t like the food, you’re going to be extra disappointed because you already paid for it.

Even though Denisonians complain at great lengths about the food at school, I think that’s a universal trait of college students. Actually, Denison is ranked very high nationally for its food options. As of July 2018, Denison was ranked number 11/25 in food quality compared to other colleges. Internally, there are obviously some blatant preferences for where Denison students like to eat on campus. Slayter’s ranking from survey respondents should be an important factor in the University developing new food options and when creating a menu for students. Denisonians like the familiarity and freedom of Slayter. You know what they offer, you’re not locked into buying something there, and it’s in a central location that is easy to get to. Even though Slayter is the most rundown, unhealthy, and crowded food option, Denison students report to like it the most. Sometimes you can’t beat the classics – although roasted quinoa, with sweet sauteed sweet potato wedges sounds healthy, sometimes you just want a burger and fries. Slayter seems so popular, maybe Denison should start franchising it? Oh, and did you know that Slayter used to have a Wendy’s and a Taco Bell? Imagine that.

Gus Hoffmann is currently a senior at Denison University, where he majors in Global Commerce. He is still unemployed and after graduating, he plans to move back to his parents’ basement to sell childhood memorabilia.

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