On September 21, an all student forum was held at Glendening Annex to allow students to consider a series of large-scale changes to food operations being recommended for the Fall 2013 semester, and to voice their opinions. Luke Mowbray, the college’s Facilities Planner and Sustainability Coordinator opened the presentation at 5pm to a modest audience of one student for the 1st and 2nd year forum, the smallest of all the forums held so far. With a detailed and PowerPoint illustrating goals for the food program, common complaints and proposed solutions, Mowbray talked the student in attendance through the changes the campus intends to implement for the 2013-2014 school year, and how they had come up with a design it to greater fulfill student needs. The proposed changes are a part of the 2011-2026 Campus Master Plan, a 15 year plan to redesign campus facilities to better fill the college’s needs, improving the quality of student life in everything from the content of their homes and classrooms, to the contents of their stomachs.
The Food Service Master Plan is designed with the primary goals of improving hours of operation, food costs and customer satisfaction. Though surprisingly absent from Friday’s presentation, St. Mary’s students have been very vocal outside of the forums about dissatisfaction in previous semesters related to the hours during which food venues are open, repetition in food variety and blandness in the weekend menu. Other common complaints include a lack of vegetarian and vegan options, the value of meal costs and meal plans, and the distance of food services from certain parts of campus. In addition to the consideration being given to operational changes, the campus’ contract with its current food service provider, Bon Appetit!, will expire in Spring 2013. At this time, the college will consider a number of different service providers in addition to Bon Appetit, a decision in which students will be the key decider.
In addition to addressing issues of quality, repetition and vegetarian options, the centerpiece of the new plan would be an ‘Anytime Dining’ Option in the Great Room. ‘Anytime Dining’ would allow the Great Room to be open seven days a week from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm without interruption, providing full dining services (ie. Home, Grill, International, Vegetarian and sandwich and salad bars), during regular meal hours, and limited dining services in between. The trade-off, for the sake of cost and efficiency, would be the discontinuation of Quizno’s and the Grill in the Upper Deck. According to Chip Jackson, Associate Vice-President of Facilities and Planning, with the Great Room open continually throughout the day, it would be performing the function of Quizno’s and the Grill as a between meals food service, and require all-day staffing and food production. As a result, these other services would need to be replaced by the anytime dining plan. No plans have been established for what will happen to the Upper Deck space, and students are encouraged to submit their suggestions to the college.
In lieu of Quizno’s and the Grill, the Pub and the Grab n’ Go in Lewis Quadrangle would both be changed into a more cohesive food service, with the Green Bean would be moved from Goodpaster Hall to the main Pub, and the Grab n’ Go being moved to the main dining area. Additionally, the Pub would be open seven days a week, with extended hours of operation on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. These changes are intended to address the most prevalent issues with food service; hours of operation, customer value and the distance between students on North Campus and food services. The most notable change, however, would be the complete overhaul of the meal plan. Instead of operating on a block system, students would be offered three new meal plans with the ‘anytime dining’ option, giving students access to dining services without limitation, with exception of flex dollars and a certain number of guest passes. Though some people have voiced concern over how this would affect the ‘swiping for two’ system (giving credence to the sharing community that St. Mary’s prides itself on being), what is essentially a ‘V.I.P pass’ to the dining services in the words of Mowbray and Jackson, has been very well received by students. Students could also have a plan with a limited number of ‘meals’, in which only one meal would have to be redeemed at a dining service, rather than a number of them determined by the time of day, as wit the block system.
According to Mowbray, reception of the plan so far has been very positive, and after a warm reception at September 25’s SGA meeting, the new plan appears to be receiving the support of students and staff to be implemented. There are several students, however, who still voice displeasure with the idea of the removal of the Upper Deck. “Absolutely not. The Great Room food isn’t always consistently good, and for me, the Upper Deck always provides something that’s at least edible. The system works just fine right now.” says sophomore Zachary Mintz. Still other students, while disappointed, feel Quizno’s and the Grill are a fair trade for an increase in value and quality. “I eat at Quizno’s a lot, but if the Great Room were to be open all day at a reduced price, that would be great!” says transfer student Will.
Although the plan is garnering general approval, Mowbray and Jackson wish to remind students that the plan is just a draft proposal at this time, the details of which have not yet been finalized. Another open forum, one for students and one for faculty, will be held on Tuesday, October 2nd at noon in Campus Center 205. The community is strongly encouraged to attend and make their opinions and concerns a part of the discourse. As Chip Jackson puts it, ‘You eat the food. It’s your quality of life.’