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Front-of-house managers dish out high-quality service

House dining hall heads digest feedback and optimize the on-campus dining experience.
Front-of-House Manager Eric Ballhaussen ensures a high-quality dining experience in Baker House.
Front-of-House Manager Eric Ballhaussen ensures a high-quality dining experience in Baker House.
Photo: Holly Hinman

Under the new all-you-care-to-eat house dining plan, five experienced food service professionals have spent the academic year ensuring a high-quality on-campus dining experience. These “front-of-house managers” serve as accessible resources for diners exploring the unprecedented variety of foods prepared by Institute catering partner Bon Appétit in the Baker, Next, Simmons and McCormick dining halls and The Howard Dining Hall in Maseeh.

“Front-of-house managers act as the concierge of their cafés,” says Kelly McDonald, resident district manager for Bon Appétit. “Students are encouraged to interact with front-of-house managers by giving feedback, asking questions, and suggesting new menu items and programming ideas.”

Among their many responsibilities, the front-of-house managers establish signage, update menus and submit payroll. Their most important role is to interpret student preferences to best serve diners.

“I make sure to always keep my ear to the ground,” says Eric Ballhaussen, front-of-house manager for Baker House. “During dinner, I try not to do too much work in the back. I make sure to talk to a couple of tables every night.” Ballhaussen also meets regularly with the Baker Executive Council to address student concerns.

Constantly reflecting on student feedback, Ballhaussen collaborates with Baker House Chef Manager Roland Trottier to adapt menus to student requests. In Baker House, salad bar items rotate regularly based on diner input.

At Simmons, Front-of-House Manager Shawna Gilligan’s comment board highlights a variety of student feedback. Gilligan’s eager response to each comment solidifies the board’s status as a critical student-communication tool.

“I have a document with a list of all of the foods available to me,” Gilligan says. “I look to incorporate comments and work closely with the chef. The comment board has been very positive and students have been thankful for it.”

The Simmons comment board also acts as a quirky manifestation of the Simmons community. “More types of exotic meats, please,” requested one jokester. “Snake, turtles, bear, etc.”

“If you kill it, we will cook it,” Gilligan quipped in response.

As recent college graduates themselves, the front-of-house managers serve as ideal ambassadors between students and house dining hall staff. Often, the front-of-house managers recall their own collegiate dining experiences when responding to feedback and creating menus. “If I’m not sure about a menu item, I think, ‘When I was in school, did I like this?’” says Catherine Corbo, Next House’s front-of-house manager.

Corbo attended Boston’s Emmanuel College, another Bon Appétit client. She says she remembers what dishes she and her peers liked and regularly incorporates them into her menus.

When the front-of-house managers are not responding to feedback, they are often guiding students to foods that match their specific dietary needs. All of the managers are eager to clarify any questions about the special options available.

Corbo says that Bon Appétit’s stringent food preparation standards make answering questions easy for her. “But I still double check with the chef, especially for our gluten-free and Hillel options,” she says.

A trained nutritionist, Gilligan says she is very confident about the nutritional punch packed into every dish at Simmons and is happy to answer student questions.

On top of it all, the front-of-house managers are never reluctant to strap on aprons and flip a burger or two.

One day this fall, The Howard Dining Hall was closed for lunch and dinner for Maseeh Hall’s dedication. Baker, which is normally closed for lunch, served the displaced diners under Ballhaussen’s leadership. In a dining hall that usually feeds between 500 and 600 people, the Baker staff cooked up lunch for about 1,200 students with ease.

“It was a little crazy,” Ballhaussen admits, “but it went OK. We brought in some staff from Maseeh to help out. And as I always do when someone is running behind, I hopped in to help.”

Visible and responsive, the new managers are an important service for on-campus diners. “Front-of-house managers are key to a successful dining experience,” McDonald says. “Whether students want to request an ice cream flavor or have a question about ingredients, they are available as a resource to the students to enhance their dining satisfaction.”

For more information on the front-of-house managers, visit Bon Appétit's "Meet Our Team" page.

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