Throughout my years at Tufts, I’ve consumed approximately 1,750 meals in the dining hall. My average dining hall visit lasts about 25 minutes, which means I’ve spent roughly 730 hours, or about 30 full days, eating in Dewick or Carmichael.
Spending all that time has allowed me to gain some insight on how things work and how people behave in the dining halls. Our feeding grounds are remarkable institutions — a peek behind the scenes reveals a startling amount of procedures and operations previously unfathomable. (Do a search for Tufts Dining’s video on how it makes its Butternut Squash Bisque.) I have tremendous respect for the dining hall staff and the well-oiled machine it runs.
But there are certain things the dining halls can’t control, like the behavior of their patrons. This week, rather than preparing a recipe, I’ve provided some basic manners that, though by no means exhaustive, will still make all of us happier, better-fed Jumbos.
1. The art of getting food in a line: First of all, during peak dining hours, it should never take you more than eight seconds to get your food from a bin. I’ve never punched anybody in my life, but the closest I’ve come to doing so was when someone ahead of me in line took more than 30 seconds (not even kidding) with the shrimp and linguine because they burrowed through all the noodles looking for extra shrimp. The humanity.
Note: There are almost always four bins at a station. Let’s say you’re in line, and all you want from the station is General Gau’s chicken, which is the final of the four bins. There’s just one person in front of you, scooping Tomatillo Shrimp from the second bin. I maintain that it’s OK, if not beneficial for everyone in line, for you to go ahead of the person getting shrimp to quickly get your General Gau’s and get out of line.
2. Putting dishes away: I’ve noticed this problem more in Dewick than in Carm, but an unnecessary bottleneck occurs when people try to put their dishes on the cleaning carousel. Basically, the first person in a large group walks up and puts their dishes on the nearest tray of the carousel. The first tray may seem like prime real estate for an in-and-out operation, but alas, it actually forces people to either wait until you’re done, or try to go around and run the risk of colliding with you just as you turn to leave the line. I’m no game theorist, but if you’re the first person, it makes more sense to walk to the end of the carousel. That way, you leave space for others to enter behind you and reduce the risk of collision.
A final note on dish duty: Don’t put your used napkins in your cup. They usually stick to the side, which makes it one more thing a dishwasher has to deal with.
3. Acknowledge the dining staff: This goes beyond please and thank you, which I consider minimums. The dining staff works really hard to make our experience a positive one, and acknowledging that is important. You don’t have to become friends with every dining hall employee, but it pays dividends to be considerate and engage in conversation. One of the highlights of my life came when it was gingerbread-man season, and an employee I’d become friends with let me try one at 3:00 p.m. even though they weren’t technically supposed to be available until dinner.
Of the 1,750+ meals I’ve consumed at Tufts, that gingerbread man was one of the tastiest, most memorable things I’ve sunk my teeth into.