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Food transfers are untimely for students

March 8, 2007

The new variety of food and payment options has been cause for debate since the University Center opened in January.

"I dropped my meal plan because I only have a set amount of time in which I can get food, and next to nothing transfers for lunch," junior Derrick Knutson said.

Restaurant hours and transfer hours are one of the major problems with the new options. Riverside Commons, the all-you-can-eat option where the majority of students use transfer points, is only open until 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. This is the only option that allows transfer points for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Riverside Commons meal plan is set on an 18-day rotation for variety.

Coyote Jack's, which serves charbroiled burgers, chicken and side items with a southwestern flair, is open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, the eatery does not offer transfer options. Another restaurant that does not offer transfer hours is Mamma Leone's. Mamma Leone's serves pizza, pasta and salads, but students have to use cash or credit cards if they want this meal option.

The only late night food option for students is Freddy's Convenience Store. Students can get something to eat as late as midnight with their transfer points.

Dining Services Director Jerry Waller said they determined the transfer hours based on focus groups and surveys they conducted last October. These groups and surveys indicated that these were the venues and times students designated to be the most appealing. Other indicators of available transfer hours are based on the menus, the practicality of needing to be open and whether there is enough business to keep venues open during specific times.

An issue that students may not be aware of is that the money from transfer points goes directly to the Residential Dining Program. The food from transfers comes from Chartwells, but they do not receive any money. The money goes to the Residential Dining Program. When students purchase food with cash instead of transfer points, the money goes to Chartwells. The money earned from students who pay for their meals in cash helps pay for the workers' salaries and equipment.

Along with the issue of transfer points, the University Center facility is unable to use all the equipment for all the venues simultaneously because the facility utilizes different equipment at different times. An example of the equipment use in different venues includes the fryers used downstairs. They are also used for Freddy's Convenience Store during transfer hours. Therefore, having several transfer options open at one time is impractical.

Dining Services decided to choose venues that utilized a wide variety while complying with students who use the Residential Dining Program and for commuters who do not have meal plans. The variety of venues includes a sandwich shop, a Mexican place, an Italian place, a burger place and a convenience store.

The dining area around each restaurant includes several tables and booths for students to utilize while they eat and study.

"[I've] never seen anything dirty ... [the] people all seem friendly," senior Carrie Oftedahl said.

A question that was raised in the focus groups that were conducted by Student Services and Programs in October was the concern of student dietary health. The new food options were meant to provide students with healthier foods.

"I definitely think that it is better than before," health and human performance major Stacy Dekkers said. "The big salad bar is very nice. Also, they have more healthy bread choices. So, yes, I would say it is healthier."

Oftedahl said she thinks the new options are as "equally healthy" as the other options. Student Life Facilities Director Mike Stifter said that no matter how healthy the available options are to students, it is ultimately up to the student to decide to eat healthier.

Waller said there are several new options for students to choose to eat healthier. These include new menu options at the different venues and a broader availability of healthy foods. In Riverside Commons, healthier options include a wider bread selection, an expanded salad bar and more fresh vegetables.

Because of the facility setup and new meal options, Dining Services and Student Life Services are conducting ongoing focus groups that are conveying health issues and student concerns.

Student Services and Programs will be using approximately ten faculty, staff, community members and students for a month-long secret shopper investigation. Throughout March, these individuals will wander through the entire University Center looking at things such as retail, services, first impressions, smells, lines, students and layout of the building. Stifter said these secret shoppers will visit the facility three times during the month. In April, the secret shoppers will get together to assess and survey their findings. Late spring semester, Student Services and Programs will act on the issues brought up by the secret shoppers.

For students who are unable to eat during transfer hours, there are options for students to get meals. The Student Services and Programs Web site includes a list of special dining needs.

According to the Web site, "sack meals may be arranged when meal times conflict with your class schedule, work or other campus activities. To participate in the sack program, you are required to complete the sack meal form available at the Dining Services Office in the University Center."

There are also options for students who are too ill to leave the dorms. Sick trays are available through Dining Services.

The Web site states, "you may arrange a sick tray with the approval of your hall manager and/or the health nurse."

However, Dining Services is not responsible for the delivery of the tray; therefore, arrangements must be made for delivery of the meal.

Another option provided by Dining Services is special dietary provisions.

According to the Web site, "if you have specific dietary needs, the University nutritionist will work directly with you in arranging your meals."

Adjustments will continuously be made throughout the upcoming years to yield out problems.

"[It] takes a while for folks to settle," Stifter said. "... [The] initial issues will be staggered out."

Stifter also said that Dining Services and others in the facility are adamant about working through the problems.

Students are encouraged to give feedback on the new meal options. The Dining Services Committee Advisory Board meets at 4 p.m. every Tuesday in the Wind River Room in the University Center. The meetings are open to everyone.