For any institution trying to reduce the volume of garbage it produces, the food service operation is often the biggest challenge. Thanks to Piper Freeman '91C, director of the Dobbs Food Plaza, Emory is more than meeting that challenge.
During her five years at the Dobbs Food Plaza (first as assistant manager, then as director), Freeman has been searching for ways to cut down on the amount of refuse the food service operation generates while maintaining a high-quality product and convenience for students.
"Reduce, reuse and recycle is pretty much our motto here," said Freeman, an employee of Aramark food service. "We've tried to make the food service as environmentally friendly as we can. We strive to have china and silverware available all the time. We've moved all of our foam and to-go products to one place so that the customers have to find them if they really want them. We really try to make them understand that you only use foam and plastic utensils for to-go orders."
Another environmentally friendly change in the food plaza is the removal of trash cans in the dining area and the addition of a conveyor belt. "We took all the trash cans out of the dining room," Freeman said, "because when people would throw the items in the trash, we would then throw the trash in the dumpster. Then you would have all these 55-gallon trash bags going into a landfill. But when they put their trays on the conveyor belt, we take all the leftover food and paper goods and throw them into our pulper, which chops it all up and reduces the volume of waste by about 80 percent."
Moving the napkin holders from the area where diners pick up their tray carts to the dining tables prompted a sizable cut in the volume of paper napkins being thrown away, Freeman said. "Now they're not just grabbing a handful of napkins and throwing them away," she said. "They take only what they need at the table."
To reduce the number of disposable Styrofoam cups being thrown away, Freeman said the food plaza offers reduced prices on sodas and coffee for people who bring their own cups or mugs, sometimes known as Earth mugs. On Earth Day, Freeman offers some type of promotional activity involving Earth mug refills to promote environmental responsibility.
Ironically, Freeman said, peer pressure can work in favor of her environmental efforts in the food plaza. "I think students often become conscious of recycling and using Earth mugs because they see their friends doing it," she said. "When they see their friends eating on china instead of plastic, then they will eat on china too."
Keeping diners happy
Freeman's interest in preserving the environment dates back to the time before she came to Emory as an undergraduate. Food service management was not what Freeman expected to be doing prior to her 1991 graduation from Emory with a major in international relations and a minor in French. At the time, Freeman looked for a job in her field of study, but a tight job market made that search difficult. After noticing an ad for the assistant manager's job at the food plaza, Freeman decided to go for it.
"I was already familiar with the operation," she said. "I figured I would be the right person to be working with Emory students in providing them with what they want, because I had been here for four years already. I also wanted to learn how to work in management because I figured that my future would lie in a business-oriented career. Management and dealing with people is something that I enjoy doing."
After two years as assistant manager, Freeman was promoted to director of Dobbs Food Plaza. At roughly the same time, she was assisting in getting the newly renovated Cox Hall food court opened. She also was food services director for a summer girls camp in North Carolina two years ago.
As director, Freeman oversees an operation that feeds 3,000 people a day during the academic year. (Dobbs Food Plaza is closed during the summer.) She also is responsible for the Faculty Dining Room, which serves 100 faculty and staff per day for lunch.
In addition, Freeman attends meetings of the University's Food Advisory Committee about every three weeks during the academic year. The students who comprise the committee comment on the food service in Dobbs Food Plaza and other campus dining areas. "A good number of students attend those meetings," she said. "They make comments about the food, both positive and negative. We try to respond to the students' needs as quickly as we can."
Augmenting the feedback Freeman gets from the Food Advisory Committee are the ratings of "mystery diners" hired by Aramark and various vendors who secretly dine at the food plaza posing as everyday students or employees. "We really don't know who they are; it's totally random," she said. "They come through the line and grade the kind of experience they have. That helps us maintain the quality of our service and our food. We've gotten high scores on those. But they are random, so it's important to have that kind of quality all the time."
After completing an MBA some day, Freeman hopes to build upon her food service management experiences (such as keeping mystery diners happy) and ascend to even higher levels of management. For now, though, she'll just keep dishing out Emory cuisine with a heaping helping of environmental sensitivity.