Villanova Dining Could Get a Boost from Guest Chefs

Andrew Portas, Staff Writer

Villanova University boasts its fair share of dining facilities, ranging from three residential dining halls to its six (soon to be seven) Holy Grounds coffee establishments, as well as everything in between. It was this variety of dining choices, as well as a mean Cova cheesesteak during my first visit, which contributed to my decision to #GoNova. 

Today, I am a senior with four years of meal plans under my belt. While I can still eat at a different location every meal for almost a whole week, I often feel restricted by available menu choices. Aside from the three halls, dining menus remain consistently rigid. Even dining hall regulars like Spit’s weekend tater tots or Pit’s inescapable edamame dumplings demand a facelift after a few years. 

For reference,, which extensively ranks and reviews thousands of American universities, grades Villanova’s “Campus Food” a measly “C+.” It is time for the University to look outwards for inspiration to reinvigorate a dining experience which ought to be comparable to its academic reputation. 

Villanova need not look any further than Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York, which I visited the other week, for a program which not only bolsters dining options but supports local businesses and integrates the university with its rich, surrounding community. RIT features “Visiting Chefs” at dining halls and cafes across campus, providing unique and fresh alternatives to regular dining menus daily. 

As of Sept. 14, “The Cafe & Market at Crossroads” features selections from local restaurants Just Chickn and Tandoor of India while “The Commons” offers fresh, chef creations from California Rollin’ Sushi. Even more guest chefs are featured across RIT’s campus today, with tomorrow bringing yet more local vendors. These chefs provide a rotating culinary alternative served right alongside typical dining food. 

Junior Sydney Thumser is one of many RIT students that is satisfied with RIT’s guest chef rotation.

“I really appreciates the fact that RIT has guest chefs throughout the week,” Thumser said. “It helps break up the monotony of dining hall food that can feel repetitive after a while.”

“I think everyone should try it,” graduate student Julia Versteden said. “It is the best food on campus.” 

I can not imagine reception on Villanova’s campus being any different. All three dining halls

already plan special cultural or holiday menus which offer new, refreshing options.

Occasionally, they will even reference local figures or chefs who’ve inspired or contributed to the menu. These are times when I feel most encouraged and excited to dine on campus.

Additionally, during the pandemic, the university rolled out food trucks many weekends featuring local vendors from Pitruco Pizza to Scoops ‘N Smiles. Near hour-long waits at times for these trucks is testament enough to their immense popularity. 

“Food trucks give students a chance to explore a whole new world of food,” said Villanova senior Christian Wade. “It’s an experience that the Villanova dining halls can lack at times.” 

Implementing this same general, popular concept to dining halls would be a definitive way to address the student body’s appetite for more extensive dining options. A brick-and-mortar setting would also invite a new array of local chefs and establishments excluded by current food truck events. Options like Bryn Mawr-based Lovebird or the wildly popular El Limon could serve as fresh, quality compliments to current dining options.

Aside from addressing student demands, such a program would provide a premier platform for local business. For many underclassmen, constrained to the boundaries of campus and unfamiliar with its surrounding environment, guest chef appearances would provide significant advertisement and promotion for dining options in their vicinity. 

It is no secret that local restaurants enthusiastically compete to draw Villanovans’ business, whether it is accepting Nova Bucks or proudly waving a flag with the school’s signature “V.” Such businesses are the backbone of an intertwined local economy and would likely jump on an opportunity to potentially expand their consumer base by thousands. 

Introducing guest chefs would by no means be a zero-sum game for Villanova Dining Services either. Expanded variety and newfound access to local favorites could entice more students to purchase pricey meal plans, which at the very least, would provide additional capital to host them. 

Inviting guest chefs would additionally be a significant step towards dismantling what I and many of my peers refer to as the “Villanova Bubble,” or the notion that Villanova can often feel like an insular community, disconnected from its external environment. Being a school which markets and prides itself on its vibrant community would make it foolish to exclude the people, businesses and other entities of the surrounding area which serve students on a daily basis.

The University and those who surround it depend on each other to thrive. Students should take explicit action to be active members of this community and make both it and ourselves stronger.

If a guest chef program has heightened student interest in dining programs and consistently bolstered local businesses in Rochester, who is to say it can’t in Villanova? We should implement this delicious win-win-win program and simultaneously increase that “C+” Niche score.