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Ted A. Mayer

HDS Director serves up plenty of changes

By Erica R. Michelstein, Crimson Staff Writer

Ted A. Mayer may have left the "chef-ing" business 25 years ago, but he still speaks like a restaurateur.

"Any restaurant that rests on a formula doesn't do well," he says. "It gets tired, the people lose interest, the standards start falling."

As director of dining services, Mayer makes sure that the ideas involved in maintaining Harvard's dining system are as fresh as the meals served, which mean he and his staff are constantly implementing new policies.

Since his arrival at Harvard two years ago, Mayer has expanded the Crimson Cash service, which he oversees, to include use at the Coop, the Technology Product Center and library copy machines. He implemented the fly-by lunch service and brought changes to the floundering Loker Commons, which is now in the black.

In a neat sun-lit office, under a large wooden sign that proclaims "Never enough thyme," Mayer speaks of the two years since he assumed the helm of Harvard's dining system, a post previously occupied by Michael P. Berry, widely known as the "Mealtime Messiah."

"It's not filling someone else's shoes," he says. "I'm not trying to outdo anyone. It's about structuring a department that allows it to respond as quickly as possible to its customers."

Mayer, who formerly worked at Colby College and Middlebury College, oversees the five million meals served annually to the Harvard community and the 500-person staff of the 13 dining halls, 12 restaurants and two catering services.

This summer he will oversee renovations of the Eliot and Kirkland house dining halls, which will be followed by renovations of the other house dining halls for at least the next six summer vacations.

And while his administrative work is important, Mayer stresses his efforts to interact with the people within the dining system. He eats in campus dining halls at least once a day and tries to design improvements based on student response on feedback cards.

This personal style works well in Harvard's House dining hall system. Mayer says the localized dining halls allow the staff to cater to different students' needs. Students get to know their house dining hall staff members, and their ideas get filtered to dining services through the staff.

"Rather than have it generic we have it more customized," he says.

In the commencement address he delivered last month to the New England Culinary Institute, Mayer cited a study of 247 interviews that showed, in addition to knowledge and service, Harvard customers want people with a passion and commitment to food.

Mayer says that students make his job special. He adds that many view dining services as one of the most responsive departments on campus.

"I think the students here are great," he says. "Obviously, they're very bright, but more importantly they appreciate what dining services does for them."

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