This year, UR was ranked 6th nationally in dining by a website called the Daily Meal, well-known for its yearly rankings of the nation’s collegiate institutions on the topics of food, drink, and other culinary areas. However, this year the University’s ranking was met with disbelief by some in the campus community. On “Overheard at Rochester”, a popular Facebook group that has evolved into a sort of forum for students to discuss and share new information, a post about the ranking received over 230 likes and hundreds of comments. Inquiries were made about whether the Daily Meal staff had gone to the wrong school or whether they lacked access to taste buds. Some comments even alleged under-the-table payments from the school to acquire the final ranking. Regardless of popular speculation and the fun it entails, there is a much simpler answer to the questions of why and how
The Campus Dish includes along with their rankings a detailed account of the methodology they used in forming the final score they give to a school. For the 2014-2015 rankings, the methodology involved assessing a school in several areas: nutrition and sustainability, accessibility and service, education and events, surrounding area, and the “x” factor. Now, you may notice that there is one category that is largely absent from the criteria just laid out. This year, the Daily Meal decided to eliminate the student review section of their ranking methodology along with the quality and taste section. It also happens to be the first year UR made the top 70 schools on the list (taking number six in a sudden flash of light). To those who might think it odd that the Daily Meal eliminated the student review section of a dining services review list, the website has an answer. According to their online methodology write-up, the reasons they eliminated the section were certainly noble. The hope was that their reviews would become a little more quantifiable so that subjective feeling and school pride wouldn’t shape the final scores and rankings of the individual colleges. In theory, this makes sense. There could be clear issues of alumni and current students boosting their accounts of the school cuisine out of a sense of pride, loyalty, or general mischief. In practice, however, it is very hard to evaluate a dining services system without considering some way to measure the quality of the system’s execution. Consider the University’s dining system.
On paper, UR’s food experience looks fantastic (at least according to the methodology employed by the Daily Meal). The school is constantly promoting its sustainable practices e.g. the clamshells in every dining hall. The Daily Meal especially liked Team Green and all of their various efforts, stating, “What really catapulted it to the front of the pack was all the efforts the dining program makes to be as sustainable, delicious, and just fun as it can be. Team Green is the team of student interns employed by the dining services whose sole purpose is to promote sustainability while dining, and on top of that, over 52 percent of all the ingredients served on campus are grown, raised, or wholly manufactured within New York State.” At the same time, we offer a lot of nutritious options next to the not-so-nutritious ones, which would seem to give students the option of deciding whether to add onto the Freshman 15. Due to the nature of our campus, the dining halls are all very accessible, and with Meatless Mondays and the Kosher Korner, the accessibility category, at least according to the site, is filled to a “t”. As for “education and events”, there are plenty of both at the University, from Boar’s Head Dinner to the monthly dining services meeting. And being that the city of Rochester is right at our doorstep, we were bound to score high in the “surrounding area” category.
Overall, no matter what your feelings are on the ranking, it should not be surprising to learn that UR scored so high. On paper, the school looks fantastic in the dining services department – it’s up to you to decide whether these services work as well in practice and whether the Daily Meal should have taken that into consideration.