May 3, 2011

Dining halls to stay open late

Late night dining at Hutchinson Commons might be having its last call, but that won’t stop students from enjoying a midnight omelet in South Campus.

The Campus Dining Advisory Board (CDAB) will pilot a new after-hours dining plan in South Campus and Pierce this month, replacing late night dining at Hutchinson Commons. The new program will go into effect during seventh week.

During the pilot, dubbed the “Fourth Meal,” designated residential dining halls will reopen on Monday through Friday from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. Each dining hall will serve breakfast food as well as grilled food and smoothies. Students in residential dorms will be able to use their meal plan, or pay $5.99 plus tax in Flex dollars or cash for an unlimited night of dining.

The plan will be available in South Campus during seventh week and in Pierce during eighth week.

Mason expects roughly 500 patrons per night for the Fourth Meal pilot. However, because Mason is confident that students will be attracted to the program’s social atmosphere, he would consider a continuous turnout of even 300 a night to be a success.

“Late night dining is about community and eating and breaking bread together,” Mason said. “[We hope students] will use it as a chance to sit down and talk.”

The Hutch program needed to serve some 200 students per night in order to be considered viable, but it failed to meet even a quarter of that number, chalking up just over 47 transactions per night over 16 weeks this year.

In order to gauge student satisfaction, Mason also said that CDAB will be asking all who attend the Fourth Meal to fill out a survey.

Because the Global Dining Initiative (GDI) is still reviewing proposals from four different campus dining companies, dining administrators cannot guarantee that the late night program will become permanent, even if it is successful, according to second-year and CDAB student head Gabe Panek. Panek added that CDAB will discuss late night options with potential vendors if the pilot is successful.

“If it really succeeds, [Fourth Meal] is definitely going to be in the conversation,” Panek said. “Late night dining is a priority for campus dining.”

Panek said that the board has been trying to provide late night options in campus dining halls since the beginning of the quarter, and it finalized the plans at the beginning of last week.

The original plan was to rotate each week among all three dining halls, but further discussion among the board and students led to the final decision to use only South and Pierce.

Mason said that Bartlett would not participate in Fourth Meal because its limited visibility from the street would not attract diners as strongly as Pierce and South. Mason added that the location of the Bartlett kitchen, below the main dining room, made it an inefficient choice.

According to Panek, approximately seven staff members will operate the dining halls during the extended hours, which should be cost-effective and provide satisfactory service. Labor will be the main additional cost if the program is implemented permanently in the future, Mason said.

Mason speculated that the prospect of easily accessible food at midnight could motivate students to eat less at dinner or even breakfast the next day, mitigating the cost of the additional meal. He added that there is only so much more food a person can and should eat in one day.