Campus dining debate consumes student body
While long lines and waits are not trademarks of Washington University, any student entering a dining area on campus during its busiest hours may be met with a disarray of people from all different directions.
To minimize any disorderliness or inconveniences in the dining experience, Student Union, the Congress of the South 40 and the University administration have made efforts to address these issues. Tuesday night saw an open forum where students could voice their concerns about campus dining and hear about future plans from school officials.
Around 35 students were present—many of whom were from SU and the CS40.
Steve Hoffner, associate vice chancellor for operations, and Nadeem Siddiqui, resident district manager for Bon Appétit, served on a panel to respond to questions from students, along with other officials from on-campus dining facilities.
Representatives from SU and the CS40 said they were pleased with the forum.
“A lot of people are uncomfortable with the current changes, so [this forum] puts a face on Dining Services,” said sophomore Hannah Bowling, speaker of CS40.
“Students could feel they could have a chance to make themselves heard,” said junior Greg Schweizer, chair for the SU Campus Services Committee.
Dining Services is working on reducing congestion. Part of this effort is integrating WebFood into the dining experience so that students can pick up their food in the Danforth University Center (DUC) without having to stand in line.
Dining Services is looking into implementing WebFood on the South 40 in addition to the DUC to help relieve lines there, too. One SU senator suggested making an iPhone application for WebFood.
Even with WebFood, long lines will still exist—but not without reason. Because chefs prepare food in front of students and allow students to pick exactly what they want on their plates, lines naturally move more slowly. On the upside, the food remains fresh, is not prepackaged and is made to each individual’s requirements.
“We can get rid of the lines, but I’m pretty sure we’d have a dining service you wouldn’t be happy with and we wouldn’t be happy with,” Hoffner said.
Customer counts are being kept campus-wide to determine volume differences throughout the day and in different locations. Many students requested later-night dining—especially in the Village. With customer counts, Dining Services can figure out when is best to close—preventing resources from being wasted—and allocate resources to later hours.
The upper level of the South 40 House only contains one station open on Fridays and Saturdays, as last year’s customer count indicated that only a trickle of students went during those nights.
Ursa’s hours have been extended this year to better accommodate students.
Some students expressed concerns that portion sizes are smaller this year. Dining Services said, however, that they have made portions to fit the Food and Drug Administration national standards in the past four years.
Dining Services is also working to serve as much fresh and locally grown food as possible. For Siddiqui, the most important part of his job is to ensure that the food students eat is “the safest, cleanest and doesn’t have the chemicals—it doesn’t have the bad stuff, but it has the best stuff.”
Dining Services is charged by the University not to make money and not to lose it, but to break even, which factors into how the hours for each dining location are decided.
Currently, undergraduates bear the burden of overhead charges, as each meal point costs more than $1. Part of the rationality behind this is that undergraduates are the main reason why dining facilities remain open until the late hours.
The administration, however, is looking to change this system. One suggestion is to increase the price of all campus food by 10 percent so everyone bears the overhead charge.
With this increase, undergraduates would actually receive a discount with their meal plans.
Most of Dining Services’ focus has been on the DUC and the South 40, which some have objected to.
“We feel the Village may have been a bit neglected,“ Hoffner said.
Subway’s contract with the University ends in June. A committee is in the works to look into whether students would prefer to keep Subway or add another fast food eatery.
In the past, the University has housed a Chick-Fil-A, whose contract was not renewed due to its unhealthy perception among students, and a Taco Bell, which closed after students protested the unfair treatment of its employees.
Construction has had a significant impact on dining on the South 40. One difference is that students are now eating out of disposable boxes instead of on china plates, because the South 40’s facilities do not currently have a dishwasher.
As there is no pizza oven on the South 40, Dining Services does not serve pizza there.