By Alex Tuerk
The dining halls on campus have been much maligned through both word-of-mouth and posts on the university’s unofficial subreddit. Between mold in cinnamon raisin bagels and undercooked buffalo chicken, the diners have become the butt of many a joke. There is one group, however, the self-proclaimed “dark horse of the dining hall,” that is working towards improving students’ relationship with the dining halls, one “hack” at a time.
On Instagram, they are known as “umd.diner.hacks,” a team of students posting their tips and tricks to making better meals with what is available at the diners, from the “peanut butter milkshake” to the “teriyaki surprise.”
“There’s a lot of untapped potential in the dining hall that we wanted to expose,” Nick Egan said. Egan, general biology major, is one of five freshmen founders of the UMD Diner Hacks page, which was created on May 3. Since then, the page has grown to 140 followers at the time of writing.
“We have people in our dorm that we’re not exactly friends with come up to us and say, ‘Hey, I tried this out and it was actually really good!’,” T.J. Picciotti, a political science major and another founder, said.
The group attributed their success to an “aggressive” social media campaign, targeting other food-centric pages based on campus for exposure, as well as using the “UMD23” hashtag to entice the incoming freshman class. Rebecca Yeh, a founder studying public health science, said she wanted to emphasize the humor behind their posts.
“First of all, our hacks are gold, but our captions are really funny,” Yeh said, adding that Picciotti and Egan are responsible for most of the hacks’ descriptions. The five, including Eleena Sofat and Sheerin Naimi, both studying public health science, met at Dorchester Hall over the past school year. They said the page itself had started out as a joke – while eating together at the South Campus Diner, one of the group would sit down with a new creation and yell out “diner hacks!”
The followers of the page are no less enthusiastic about the hacks. Most said they were looking for something beyond the daily specials Dining Services offer.
“It gives me a fulfilling avenue to express my culinary creativity within Maryland’s dining hall,” freshman biology major Arman Daneshpayeh said.
“I followed because I wanted to optimize my dining experience,” freshman studio art major Chris Callahan said.
Although the group said they’ve had some “trolls” and negative comments in their Instagram direct message feeds, most direct messages were other students thanking them or offering their own hack for consideration.
As for their presence over the summer semesters, when most students won’t see the dining halls until the fall, the group said they had an “archive” of hacks ready to go.
“We’ll release them slowly so people know what to do when they get back for the fall semester,” Egan said. “A controlled release.”