The future of Sage Dining

As the school year began, dining hall director Jim Butler of Sage Dining announced upcoming and ongoing changes. The Mercersburg NEWS sat down with Butler to discuss what the future holds in store for Academy diners.

NEWS: As you announced earlier in the week, there are some changes coming to the Mercersburg Academy dining hall. While the majority of these will be minor changes, would you describe what major changes the students should expect this coming year?

Butler: The primary changes are additional meal options. There are more meals, both buffet and family-style, where we’ve added an additional entrée. For lunch on opening Wednesday, we had both beef and chicken stir-fry and the vegetarian option for a family-style lunch. We’ve added flavored iced tea, a selection of Spa Waters, and more fresh fruit than ever before. We’re working on service ideas for family-style meals that we hope will cut down on waiting time and make second helpings more convenient. Look for some of those in coming weeks.

NEWS: Furthermore, earlier this week you also announced the newly updated SAGE Dining app. While you did touch briefly on what the App is, could you explain more about the reasoning behind developing this app and explain how this new app will give the students more of a voice on what ends up on our plates?

Butler: The mobile app, Touch of SAGE, enhances communication in both directions. Not long ago, all communication was paper and ink. We’d print and post menus and people would write and post comment cards. Now, with Touch of SAGE, students, faculty, and parenst can view the menu at all times. Any changes are immediately available. Our allergen filter helps those with food allergies find safe options. Most of all, the depth of recipe and nutritional information is unprecedented, as is the immediacy of the feedback we receive. In just the last few days, comments on the app are outpacing the comment board by about three to two.

NEWS: In your opinion, do you think that these changes will bring more excitement in terms of variety, as well as a new student interest in the menu?

Butler: Yes, I do. People of every age are more interested in the food they eat and where it comes from. The number of vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and people with other dietary needs is at an incredible level. What’s served, where it came from, and how it’s made are just a few of the questions we get regularly.

NEWS: In your opinion, what changes and trends have you noticed during your years here at Mercersburg Academy in regards to food quality, food preparation, and food waste, and how these impacted the students’ viewpoints on the SAGE Dining Program?

Butler: The quality has been on a continuous arc of improvement over the nine-plus years I’ve been here. One factor I can measure is where we spend our money. With SAGE’s emphasis on scratch cooking, we spend more on fresh produce and meats than frozen, prepared products. We spend more on our culinary team and invest in having well-trained people preparing the meals. Each year, we buy more local products than before, and we’re constantly looking to source food locally. The investment in quality means that food waste is the biggest battle we fight. We already minimize waste by cooking in small batches, but we’ll be trying some new things this year, as well.

NEWS: Finally, members of the Mercersburg community have the opportunity to write down their opinions, recommendations, and requests on a little piece of paper that is posted onto a wall in the cafeteria. Are these notes actually read by you and your team and taken into consideration?

Butler: We read EVERY one of the cards. Most get a written response; sometimes we follow up with email, other times with a personal conversation. When there are multiple comments on a single topic, I’ll create a group response and post it for all of them. The recent questions about peanut butter are an example of this. They’re always taken into consideration. Sometimes, responses and changes are easy and happen quickly. Other times, the requested changes are more complex or may be contrary to the school’s goals for the dining service. After a week with the toasters away, we noticed there was a change in how much waste we had from the served meals. It seems people were more willing to try the served entrees instead of automatically having toast and peanut butter for lunch. Hopefully we can continue to offer bigger family-style portions and more meal options without an increase in waste. We try to balance the input we receive with the good of the whole community we serve.

Posted in: Opinion

Post a Comment