Get the most out of your dining hall experience


Photo courtesy of Colorado State University Housing & Dining Services

Serena Bettis, Editor in Chief

Moving into the dorms and starting life away from your family, your home and your own kitchen can be daunting — especially if you’re like me and are a picky eater. 

You’ve probably already seen the meme accounts posting about bad dining hall food and limited options, but I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. 


I’ve worked in the Colorado State University dining halls for three years now, and while it’s certainly not a Gordon Ramsay dining experience, here are my behind-the-scenes tips for how to stay happy and healthy while living and eating on campus. 

Discover the unique aspects of each hall

At CSU, you have the option between four main dining halls — Braiden Dining Center, Durrell Dining Center, The Foundry and Ram’s Horn. Within each dining hall, you’ll find do’s and don’ts, figure out your favorite meals each day of the week and probably have something you consistently dislike at all of them. 

Braiden is a popular lunch spot because it’s the closest to the academic buildings, and it offers its speciality RAMwich Express, where you can get customized sandwiches made with high-quality deli meat. 

“More often than not, someone at the dining halls will be happy to remake your food to ensure there’s no cross-contamination, combine a meal without that one specific ingredient or find something different that fits your needs and has some variety. “

The Foundry has a great variety of options, and because it’s the newest (or most recently renovated) dining hall on campus, it’s got a great ambiance if you don’t want to feel like the broke college student you may be. 

Ram’s Horn and Durrell both have marketplace and cafe locations where you can get espresso, snacks and more. Ram’s Horn also boasts its Mongolian grill, which is a fun way to mix up your meals each day. 

Durrell is a bit unique this year because it’s going to operate entirely through Grubhub, with different stations or “stores” open throughout the day. This is a good option if you want to take your food back to your room, but it does have dine-in seating, too.

Ask and they will accommodate you

Throughout my time as a dining hall employee, this is probably the thing I see students do the least, but you shouldn’t be afraid to interact with employees and ask for what you need. 

If you have an allergy or dietary restriction, this advice is specifically for you: Ask for accommodations, and you will be accommodated. Depending on your diet, whether you have a soy allergy, you’re vegan, you have celiac disease or you’re allergic to peppers, ask questions, tell the folks behind the counter and make the dining halls work for you. 

More often than not, someone at the dining halls will be happy to remake your food to ensure there’s no cross-contamination, combine a meal without that one specific ingredient or find something different that fits your needs and has some variety. 


Sometimes the same meal will be offered repeatedly, and if you can only eat specific foods, it becomes tiresome and boring. When that’s the case, try to switch it up. 

Every dining hall has a variety of stations, and you can always take one or two things from each station to make a new meal. And if you’re sick of the same vegetarian option being offered day after day, ask to speak with a chef or manager and see what they can do to help make your experience more enjoyable. 

The state-classified employees who make all the food in the dining halls can be identified by their black and gray uniforms with chef’s coats and striped pants. Chat with these folks, learn their names and ask them questions about your food. At the end of the day, all they want is to serve you a tasty, safe meal.

Know how to use your meal plan

The CSU meal plans are based on weekly allocations, meaning your available meals will reset every week. You have a few weeks at the beginning of the semester to change your meal plan, and that’s an important time for you to pay attention to how much you’re eating so you don’t end up hungry at the end of each week come October. 

Meal plans reset on Friday nights, so you should plan your week accordingly. Meal swipes don’t roll over week to week, so if you don’t use them all by Friday, you’ll lose them forever.

Meal plan usage is also restricted to two swipes per meal period. The meal periods will be listed in the dining halls and usually align with meal times like breakfast, lunch, late lunch and dinner. It does not matter how you use your meal swipes or which hall you use them in — if you’ve used two in a period, the meal check system will not let you use another. 

Meal periods are also important to remember because if you don’t want to waste your unused swipes, you should plan ahead to use an extra one at the end of each day or during each meal period on Friday. Don’t expect to be able to go into the marketplaces at 7 p.m. on a Friday and use five meal swipes. 

Also in the marketplaces, keep in mind that you have $9 worth of items you can buy with one meal swipe. If you’re only getting one thing, consider stocking up on some snacks or using RamCash instead of a full swipe — that way, you get the most out of your meal plan. 

Reach Serena Bettis at or on Twitter @serenaroseb.