New meal options pull students back for seconds

After the success of meal exchanges and the Phoenix Plan, Dining is looking to expand Maroon dollar options and renovate Bartlett.

By Zhou Fang

Students are increasingly taking advantage of this year’s new dining options, the Phoenix Meal Plan and meal exchanges, implemented fall quarter as a result of the Global Dining Initiative.

The number of students enrolled in the Phoenix meal plan has increased from 183 to 267 since fall quarter, and the number of meal exchanges used has doubled, from around 2500 in fall to about 5000 in winter, according to Director of Campus Dining Richard Mason.

The attendance of fourth meal has normalized to around 300 to 400 each night, compared with the nearly 600 who attended the pilot in Pierce last year.

Mason said that the administrators are still evaluating the new dining program by gathering at least a full year’s worth of data and that they will engage with student groups to talk about the dining options later in the process.

“Meal exchange is new for our campus, and there are progresses that we are both continuing to find in the program itself and also the way we talk about it and describe it,” Mason said.

Meal exchanges currently allow students to get one main entree and one or two sides at locations such as Maroon Market, Midway Market, and academic cafés. Though student-run cafés still do not provide meal exchanges, the dining office is discussing the option with managers, but the final decision will rest on ORCSA and café management, Mason said.

In addition to monitoring the meal plan changes, Dining is also working on improving the layout of the dining halls. Over the past few quarters, the dining halls have gotten new signs to label each station and TVs that broadcast comments from diners.

This summer, the University will renovate Bartlett Dining Hall, in its 12th year of operation, to improve dining efficiency. The current round tables will make way for new rectangular tables, and a portion of the cooking facilities will move up to the main floor from the floor below.

“We want to create a station much like South Campus where the salad bar can be replenished from inside and be constantly replenished throughout, so it’s fresh,” Mason said.

Student feedback from Campus Dining Advisory Board, which was involved in shaping the Global Dining Initiative this year, has called for more variety and flexibility, as well as local restaurant involvement.

Campus Dining additions such as Jamba Juice at Ratner Athletic Center and Subway at Midway Market aim to address this concern by offering different venues, hours of operation, places, and culinary variation, Mason said.

However, equipment and financial restriction make local vendor involvement in U of C dining difficult, according to Mason. He also said that promoting off-campus dining is contrary to the community-building aim of dining, currently carried out through House tables.

Innovations, such as a new UChicago Dining app for Android and iPhone, will also enhance communication.

“We’re trying to think about ways in which we can make the dining options easier to understand,” Mason said.