An Exploration of Dining Across (most of) The NESCAC


I had the opportunity to visit some friends of mine at competing NESCAC schools over the fall break and what at first seemed like a fun encounter with our NESCAC counterparts, turned into a humbling realization of how fortunate we are to attend Bates and dine in our fabled Commons Dining Hall.



Dining at Colby College ebbed and flowed. I found myself in their infamous ‘Runnals Dining Hall’ at around 12:30 p.m. on a Sunday. What I encountered inside was fascinating.

The first moment where I realized I was not in commons anymore was when I was told I would have to leave my backpack outside in one of the provided cubbies. I thought to myself, “What? No backpack? How am I going to pretend to be doing work at the table?” I was shocked, but heeded their instruction nonetheless.

After successfully getting a guest pass courtesy of a Colby student, I entered the buffet section of their dining hall. Claustrophobic and confusing, I navigated my way past overcooked eggs and thick crust pizza, past the minimal cereal wall (only four options?!), and past the dry turkey that looked like a stomach bug waiting to happen.

I settled on a cup of coffee and some oatmeal. A very plain meal, but I was not feeling adventurous in this foreign culinary society. The coffee was good, the oatmeal a bit bland, but I had no complaints, however simple this meal was.

A big difference in Runnals Dining Hall was how separated the tables were from the food. I felt unsettled when I looked up and realized I couldn’t see how long the line was at the pasta bar. I couldn’t tell if they had put fresh pizza out yet or not. For Christ’s sake, where do I even get plates from? 

From my slightly uncomfortable seat in the trenches, I was forced to focus on my meal and my friends. The contrast between Commons and Runnals made me feel fortunate that I would return home for dinner in the dining hall that I was more comfortable with.



On an overnight trip to Connecticut College for Bates Athletics, I woke up from a long bus ride to find myself looking at the entrance to ‘The Plex.’ I felt perplexed when I looked at ‘The Plex,’ as there appeared to be dorms attached on either side and above the dining hall itself. How peculiar. 

With an open mind and an empty stomach, I walked inside the doors. Immediately I was greeted by the haunting aroma of quesadillas. I scanned the room before fixing my attention on a grill setup that looked inexplicably like Common’s egg bar.

I walked over and looked around, confused, as I searched for some sort of instructions. Without luck, I asked a nearby Conn College Camel for some assistance. “Just get a tortilla, throw some fixings on, and hand it to them and ask for a quesadilla,” they said to me, as if that made things clear for me.

It did not make things clear for me. I was so confused. I frantically searched the poorly lit food area for any of the ingredients I needed for a simple quesadilla. After minutes of searching, I gathered my tortilla with my things and requested the ‘dilla. Five minutes later, my plate was returned to me with a fresh quesadilla plopped in the center. I took my Mexican meal back to the table, located on the opposite side of the building, and sat down to enjoy my creation.

The guacamole was a nice touch, but I was left with a feeling of embarrassment, as 20 minutes had passed since I arrived and I was just now sitting down to eat.

The lighting was slightly dingy and the floors felt like there had been an EDM party there the night prior. As I exited ‘The Plex,’ I took one last look inside before leaving and shuttered at the sight of a freshmen pregame occurring just a matter of feet away from the pizza bar, only a thin wall separating the italian wood oven and the Jack Harlow-bumping 100 square foot dorm to the left.



I now return to our beloved Commons Dining Hall for a very typical meal. It’s Sunday night, and the student body has made its pilgrimage back to campus after an extended vacation for the fall break. I look around and see some similar faces, some unrecognized faces, but the sense of community certainly returned. 

The lines are back but not quite as long as they have been at some points this semester. People are standing in the way of traffic by the toasters (who is using the toasters at dinnertime, though?). The track guys are flipping the pepper shakers making a ton of noise. The football players have their gallon jugs of water on the table. In all aspects, student life is lively once again.

I reflect on my dining experiences across the northeast and realize that Bates has the ingredient that all the other schools seemed to be missing: community.

The open concept in the dining hall allows for tons of interactions and instead of having dozens of six person tables and six person conversations, it feels like there are 200 people all eating and experiencing the meal together. 

The food is certainly nothing to complain about; or at least, you wouldn’t complain about it if you had gone to Colby and had that dry turkey, or given the premade chicken burritos from Conn College a chance. 

Do I have a thesis for this article or was this just storytelling my cuisine chronicles from break? I suppose it was just storytelling. However, if I were to sum up these thoughts with some sort of hypothesis, I would say this:

People are allowed to complain about commons. They don’t always serve what you want, you may not always be excited to return to the same building three times a day for meals, but I hope that people are able to recognize how special our dining experience is here at Bates, and hopefully are able to reflect and give credit to the people that put in time and effort to make the experience as special as it is. Perhaps people can return to commons in the coming weeks with even just a sliver of admiration.