This year, Campus Dining expanded its hours of operation on the weekends, opening Wilson dining hall for breakfast between 7:30am and 9:30am each Saturday and Sunday. The Board praises Campus Dining for making this improvement and recommends several additional reforms, namely keeping one dining hall open until 8:30pm on weeknights, beginning the upperclassmen 'Two Extra Meals' and meal exchange programs at the beginning of the academic year rather than at various points later in the semester, and finding a way to feed upperclassmen during Orientation.
Previously, dining halls did not open until 10am for brunch on weekends, although there had always been an option for meal plan holders to spend up to $4 at the Frist Campus Center for breakfast from 8am-9:45am on Saturdays. However, upperclassmen cannot use their 2 extra swipes at Frist, and the $4 limit restricted students’ ability to eat a hearty meal. This posed a challenge for student athletes in particular, as many teams have early morning practice on the weekends or leave campus before 10am for away competitions. Now, teams are able to eat together in Wilson dining hall on weekend mornings. Eating a proper meal prior to practice or travel can be a game-changer for many athletes by helping improve performance and foster healthy eating. Similarly, students who finish practice well before 10am can now eat directly after practice instead of waiting for the dining halls to open for brunch. While the athletic teams are an obvious example of students who benefit from expanded dining hours, there are surely other students on campus who will appreciate having a weekend breakfast option, even if simply to get an early start to their day. The Board praises Campus Dining for increasing optionality for students with this change, and we also believe there remains room for additional dining improvements.
Just as many students benefit from having a dining hall open for breakfast on the weekends, students would also benefit from having a dining hall open until 8:30pm for dinner on weeknights. Many athletes rush to the dining halls after practice yet still have insufficient time to eat, partially due to the long walk between the dining halls and athletic facilities such as the boathouse and DeNunzio Pool. There is no reason for the dining halls to have identical hours of operation, and accordingly the Board advocates that either Whitman or Butler, due to their proximity to many of the athletic facilities, close at 8:30pm on weeknights. If operation costs are a concern, the Board is amenable to this dining hall opening for dinner at 5:30pm. Since there are five other dining halls that would open at 5pm, students would not be disadvantaged by one of them opening at 5:30pm to facilitate it closing half an hour later. Such a change would only benefit the many students who cannot get to dinner until close to 8pm. Though late meal opens at 8:30pm, it is challenging to eat a nutritious meal within the $6.95 limit. Moreover, upperclassmen cannot use one of their 2 extra dining hall swipes for late meal. Many students, including athletes, students with night precept, and dancers or actors who have busy practice schedules close to performances, would appreciate this increased flexibility, without it creating an undue inconvenience for the University.
The University and the Interclub Council can also improve their upperclassmen Two Extra Meals and meal exchange programs. This year, upperclassmen could not begin using their two dining hall swipes until September 18 (over a week after move in), while the meal exchange program will not begin until October 6. Campus Dining and the eating clubs may wait to begin these programs until after fall bicker, when students are fully decided on their meal plan for the year. Yet students considering fall bicker are unlikely to meal exchange in anticipation of changing meal plans, and students can still be charged for an uncompleted exchange if they switch meal plans in the midst of an exchange. The purpose of the Two Extra Meals and meal exchange programs is to bridge the divide between underclassmen and upperclassmen. These programs are even more important in the first few weeks of class when people are meeting others for the first time, and upperclassmen want to spend time with friends on a different meal plan. Allowing upperclassmen to use their 2 weekly swipes and meal exchange at the start of the academic year rather than several weeks into the semester will help the whole Princeton community feel more cohesive in the opening days of the new year.
A final area of improvement concerns the delay between move-in and when dining halls and eating clubs open for meals. This year, move-in began on Saturday, September 9, yet the dining halls did not begin serving meals to non-freshmen until lunch on Monday, September 11 while many of the eating clubs had their first meal at dinner on Tuesday, September 12. Meal plans and eating club contracts are very expensive, and it is reasonable for students to expect to be able to eat in the dining hall or in their club as soon as they arrive on campus, rather than head to Nassau Street. Given the expense of many Nassau Street restaurants, this can pose a particular burden for students from low-income backgrounds. The Board acknowledges that due to the number of orientation events for freshmen that take place in the dining halls, it may not be feasible for all the dining halls to open for meals. However, even having one of the six dining halls open for limited hours and/or with limited options would be extremely helpful to students who would otherwise have to purchase all of their meals off campus. The University could complement a limited dining hall schedule with free food options at Frist or additional outdoor food options, similar to the barbeque after the P-Rade. With regards to eating clubs, while each club may have very different dining logistics that make a uniform policy challenging, we nevertheless urge the clubs’ officer corps to investigate the feasibility of opening their kitchens or providing cheap food options such as pizza or sandwiches to members closer to move-in.
Expanding Wilson’s dining hall hours on the weekend to offer a breakfast option is a step in the right direction to improve students’ flexibility around food. We urge Campus Dining, as well as the eating clubs, to implement our suggestions of opening a dining hall until 8:30pm on weeknights, beginning the Two Extra Meals and meal exchange programs at the start of the year, and looking for creative ways to feed upperclassmen during Orientation.