Meal system on campus differs from other universities


Analicia Haynes

Femi Usikalu, a freshman family and consumer sciences major, talks to Makira Nelson, a freshman pre-nursing major during Late Night Pizza, Monday night in the Thomas Hall Dining Center. He said he comes to Late Night Pizza not just for the food but because after getting off work late, he needs something to eat. "I need to keep the weight on," he said, referring to himself as "too thin."

Analicia Haynes, Managing Editor

The Dining Hall system on campus varies from the way others are set up statewide.

Mark Hudson, the director of Housing and Dining, called Eastern’s dining experience unique and said the goal is to make it as flexible as possible for students.

Unlike other universities, Eastern does not have a point-based system; rather, it uses meal swipes that renew once a week.

With a point-based system, every food item has a certain point value.

Hudson said students can eat until they are full in the Thomas and Taylor Dining Centers and wait two hours before they can go back for more.

“It’s a little different in the Tower Dining Center (Stevenson Hall). It’s sort of a defined entrée– you can have a made-to-order sandwich, salad, then get things around it,” Hudson said.

He said the reason the university did not go with the point system or a block system is because students might risk running out of points or swipes by the end of the semester.

“The way we do our program is sort of a ‘helping students keep track of what they have available,’ so it resets every Monday so they can buy one of four types of meal plans: 7, 10, 12, 15 and they get that number of meal swipes per week,” Hudson said.

Hudson said the Reservation Dining Program in the Stevenson Tower Dining Center is unique to the campus.  Students can reserve a table for Thursday or Friday night and enjoy a meal in a restaurant-like atmosphere.

“We do that for one single meal swipe. I know some universities that do this have an upcharge in addition to a swipe. We offer it as an opportunity to have a different type of (dining) experience,” Hudson said.

Hudson said another thing that is well-received by students is the flexibility of the dining dollars regarding where students can spend them.

“It gives them ways where they can break up the monotony,” Hudson said.

Students can add more dining dollars to their account, which is something Hudson said other schools do not offer. Despite the flexibility with their dining meal plans, Hudson said students still have several misconceptions regarding the dining centers, dining dollars and dining plans.

One of the misconceptions is the idea that students might be “wasting” meal swipes or food when they do not use them.

“We know by analysis, students miss about a third of the meals with whatever their meal plan is, so we take that into consideration when we price the meal plan,” Hudson said. “We reduce the cost of it to allow for that. So really, if they’re eating all 15 meals they’re on house money. We’ve built in that expectation of students missing a certain number of meals.”

Hudson said students have also asked why they cannot use meal swipes in the University Food Court.

He said it is because the food court is a retail dining operation, and if students use their meal swipes there, not only would they burn through them more quickly, but also, the Food Court is not designed for a throughput of customers like the dining centers are.

He said the Food Court is already busy at high noon when people are getting lunch, and if students used swipes at the same time then it would be twice as big.

“The physical facility is not designed to take the place of a residential dining center that conserves like a thousand people an hour,” he said.

Hudson said this would overwhelm the system, slow down the service and the outcome would be more complaints.

The other thing that students do sometimes is not take full advantage of the flexibility in the meal plan; for example, they get into the habit of eating in the same dining center all the time or they order the same thing. In order to maximize the flexibility, they need to move around a bit.

“We want students to take advantage of the variety of services we have,” Hudson said.

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]