Students respond to changes in Dining Services

Katy Hillbo

Walking into the Union Grill at about 6 p.m. on a Monday, I expected a bustling, chaotic scene. I was surprised, however, to see only three tables occupied. It is oddly quiet without the constant yelling of order numbers that I have come to associate with the Grill.
In contrast, when I have dinner at Downer at 6:30 p.m., it is very crowded. The plate count is low, and the dining rooms echo with raucous laughter and conversation. What is causing the shifts in attendance at these two places?
Many blame the removal of Dining Dollars credit for Grill purchases and the implementation of the Viking Gold Debit Account.
Meal plans this year only include dining hall meals, and meals at the Grill now must be paid for with Viking Gold or with cash.
The change is the result of a proposal that was brought to the LUCC Student Welfare Committee by Nancy Truesdell, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and Patrick Niles, director of dining services.
Whatever the cause, the shifts in attendance at both Downer and the Grill appear to be having repercussions. Since not as many people go to the Grill now, employees there have noticed a drop in sales.
“[Business] at the Grill is very slow compared to years past. We are making hundreds of dollars less per day than we were making last year,” said junior Alison Salo, Union Grill student manager. “I can’t say exactly what’s causing the decrease in attendance, but it’s assumed by most of the people here that it has to do with the removal of Dining Dollars.”
At Downer, some students say that high attendance has resulted in food and silverware shortages.
“I’ve seen them run out at Downer, and sometimes, if it’s late and they’re serving dinner, they get thin on selection,” said junior Sarah Davies.
Niles explained that Downer has “had problems with production. We use past years to determine the amount of food to prepare. We didn’t expect the jumps in attendance this year.”
This high level of attendance can also lead to other problems, like long lines.
“Sometimes, there are huge lines, and when you expected to get your food in five minutes, you have to wait a half hour,” said Shannon Donegan, a junior.
Among students, opinions are mixed as to whether the switch to Viking Gold was an improvement. Students who support Viking Gold like the flexibility and options that it offers them.
Senior Brendan Cornwell said he likes “the versatility of Viking Gold and the option to choose the amount of money that you put on the card.”
Junior Matt Mohns commented that it’s nice “not [to be] held to a certain amount on your meal plan.”
However, some students do not think so highly of the new program. Many find the switch confusing.
“A lot of people who have come into the grill have been confused about Viking Gold,” said Salo. “Many people assume that their old Dining Dollars carried over [or have been replenished].”
Carmel Morgan-Weisberg, a senior, said that on a recent Grill run she went to check out and discovered that there was no money on her card. She and Donegan were both frustrated by the switch to Viking Gold.
“I think that the Grill is going to lose a lot of business,” said Donegan. “I used to go all the time, because I’m in the Conservatory and it was convenient to go after rehearsals. Now, I never go.”
There is also the issue of applying for a Viking Gold account and putting money on it in the first place.
Elaine Streng, a sophomore, said that it was “too inconvenient to fill out the applications,” and that with Viking Gold she was “more conscious of spending [the money].”
However, Viking Gold may not be the sole problem, if even the biggest, at all.
When asked if she thinks that Viking Gold has had an impact on attendance at Downer, senior and Downer employee Shannon Diener said, “It hasn’t been as much that. We’ve been short employees, and we’ve had to move people around.”
Patrick Niles agreed. “There are not enough student workers. We just haven’t been seeing as many applications coming in this year,” he said. There are also a few nonstudent staff positions that are currently vacant.
Niles explained that the shortages in clean plates occur because an extra supply of the dishware used at Downer is “on back order.”
He said it was a “vendor problem” and that the plates “should have been here weeks ago.”
However, Niles also said that he thinks Downer is “getting close” to meeting the new challenges the year has ushered in, and that he is “happy with the progress at Downer.”
Although most people interviewed think that Viking Gold is the source of dining problems, there could be other explanations. Time will tell whether these problems work themselves out or if action will need to be taken to change the meal plans.