Nine years after the Air Force launched a program to improve the “quality, variety and availability” of food on its bases, Joint Base Charleston is home to a remade dining hall.
The Gaylor Dining Facility this month opened after a two-year closure for renovations in line with the branch-wide Food Transformation Initiative, which was modeled partly after successful meal service upgrades on college campuses.
Service members now have more choices for where, when and what to eat.
“We’re all super pumped,” 2nd Lt. Samuel A. Swanson says.
Swanson serves as a Joint Base spokesman, but statistics back up his assessment. Since reopening, Gaylor has fed 1,000 people a day, which is about quadruple the amount of diner traffic it saw before the enhancements. Air Force-wide, patronage of base cafeterias has climbed nearly 50 percent since the adoption of what’s popularly called “Food 2.0.”
In a departure from previous policy, Gaylor is now open to all 90,000 base patrons, including civilian contractors and retirees. But service members say the uptick is largely attributable to a modernized dining room, featuring an open plan and eating counters furnished with electrical outlets, and a vastly improved menu.
“A lot of the complaints we used to get were about the food not being too healthy,” Master Sgt. Saundra Coleman says, adding that cooks sometimes inadvertently exacerbated the situation by trying to disguise bland food with salt.
Food preparers are now instructed to follow recipes exactly. Each dish served at Gaylor is listed in MyFitnessPal, a popular weight control app. And Capt. Jamila Edgerson says diners who aren’t overly concerned with nutritional information have appreciated the new emphasis on freshness, which manifests as hamburgers cooked to order and diced zucchini on the salad bar.
“With this generation, we like green foods,” Edgerson says.
In addition to the salad bar, food stations include a sandwich bar, grill (source of Edgerson’s favorite Greek turkey bowl) and a “Global” counter which changes themes on a quarterly basis. It’s currently serving Asian-style noodles.
“One thing we like to brag about is the soda station,” Edgerson says, gesturing toward a trio of waters on tap. Diners have their pick of “ambient temperature” still, chilled still and sparkling.
During Gaylor’s closure, airmen living in dorms were granted an extra $736.58 per month to cover their food costs. Joint Base leaders were concerned that recipients wouldn’t want to give up the allowance but Edgerson says they seem to prefer what the renovated Gaylor has to offer.
Before the official opening, a high-ranking official toured the facility in the company of a communications department member who was there to record his reactions. But Edgerson instead watched the woman with the camera. She apparently had plenty of personal experience with old-style Air Force eating.
“Just to see her eyes light up was the highlight of his visit,” she says.
According to Swanson, the renovation and repairs cost $2.4 million.