Future food changes raise concern

The renovated All Campus Dining Center, as pictured in the design above, is due to be finished by August 2017 in time to welcome students back to campus. There will be unlimited access to the ACDC. / Photo courtesy of Vassar College

We’ve all heard about the new dining program launching in the fall of 2017. Some are enthusiastic about the change, but others have their doubts. Regardless, rumors and speculations abound. To clarify the future of on-campus food, The Misc spoke with the Dining Renewal and Improvement Committee about students’ most pertinent questions regarding the change. Special thanks to Assistant Dean for Campus Activities Teresa Quinn, Dean of Strategic Planning & Academic Resources Marianne Begemann, Director of Residential Life Luis Inoa, Dean of the College and Professor of Education Chris Roellke and Associate Vice President of Finance Bryan Swarthout for providing a collective response to the following questions.

To ensure that all students can eat whenever and with whomever they like, the new plan fosters community-building over meals and allows for increased flexibility around individual schedules. In theory, students will be free to go to the Deece as many times as they want without having to binge eat to conserve swipes. However, the change still brings up much confusion. The administrators respond to a few such concerns:

Q: “Can you address the cost and affordability of the new meal plan?”
A: “First and foremost, affordability—We have worked hard to create a new meal plan that will be healthy, enjoyable and affordable, and we believe we have done that with the new dining plan that will be in place at the start of next semester. In terms of cost, the increase in room and board (combined) for next year is $500, or four percent, the same percent as the tuition increase for next year.”

Q: “What are the locations that students will have unlimited access to?”
A: “Students will have unlimited access to ACDC. Students will be able to use a meal equivalency once every four hours at the Express, Bridge Café or Food Truck on weekdays and once each day on the weekends. Meal equivalences will consist of a drink, a hot or cold meal, fruit and a snack.”

Q: “Since everyone is on the meal plan, would alternative residential options (TA/TH/SoCo/ Ferry/Off-campus) and cooking for oneself become less desirable?”
A: “The new dining plan does not preclude students from cooking for themselves, although it will definitely make it unnecessary. In some ways, being on the meal plan provides students living in the apartments or co-ops with more dining options, and thus, especially during crunch times, an easy way to get a meal without the need for shopping, cooking, cleaning etc. Senior residential options give students a unique living situation. Students can live in a single with three or four other students as opposed to a traditional [dormitory-style] house of 150. Our sense is that students will still be looking for smaller, more intimate and controlled environments especially entering their senior year.”

Q: “Will the new plan affect student employment and programming?”
A: “None of the student positions at ACDC, the Kiosk or the Bean will be dissolved. The stage on the second floor of the ACDC is still available for programming late night events.”

Q: “With the change in contractor, would the current employees be laid off? Would there be enough staff to accommodate the extended and continuous hours of operation at ACDC (7 a.m. to 1 a.m.)?”
A: “Other than the Aramark management team, all dining employees are SEIU and CWA employees of the college, and they will continue to work at dining locations although some schedules may change. The new style of cooking is more labor intensive and requires more chefs. We plan to hire additional employees to cover extended hours. New staffing plan and schedule (divided by day parts) is being worked on.”

Q: “Could you explain a little more about the eco-friendly and the Farm to Fork concept of Bon Appétit?”
A: “Bon Appétit focuses on developing menus which utilize ingredients available locally (within 200 miles). The menus will be catered to the season. Not everything will be available locally but Bon Appétit has already begun developing relationships with local farms, including the Vassar Farm Project, and local producers to meet their needs.

The renovation aims to provide a more open and welcoming environment that features different dining destinations. There will be an open staircase to UpC. The downstairs seating will be in group settings, providing places for students to study and socialize. Outlets and printers will be available. There will be a different set of stations like a coffee bar and smoothies open up during late night.”

Q: “Being the central hub for dining, will ACDC become more crowded?”
A: “The renovation of ACDC will enhance the atmosphere and increase capacity (# of seats) 30 to 40 percent. It is our expectation that the combination of additional capacity in ACDC, continuous operation of ACDC from early morning to late night, and additional meal options at the Express, Food Truck and Bridge Café will prevent over-crowding in ACDC.”

Q: “Would the Deece open during breaks?”
A: “The All Campus Dining Center will be open during October break, as it is today. We are evaluating optional plans for those students on campus during other breaks.”

Q: “Will there be more private dining locations like the ‘Quiet Room’ with smaller tables?”
A: “In addition to the large open space on the first floor, the renovation opened up access to the second and third floor of the dining hall, with plenty of seating in all areas. The entire first floor will be open for dining and this includes the west side for seating and food stations. There will be a variety of table sizes and seating options throughout the dining center, and the second and third floor will allow for quieter dining.

The Express will move to the newly renovated Kiosk with expanded offerings and hours (breakfast and lunch until late afternoon). Located in the center of campus and designed for a high volume of people, the food won’t be customizable. The walls of the Kiosk will come down, allowing an open space for students to walk in and select from the hot and cold options to grab and go. A food truck will stop at locations such as residential houses and academic facilities during weekday nights and is available for special events.

The Retreat and Matthew’s Bean will take cash, VCash and credit. Student can still choose to sit and work in these locations. A Taqueria/ Chipotle type bar will be added at the Retreat.

To promote engagement within community, $200 is included in the meal plan for students to spend at local vendors, including the Vassar Farm, and at select restaurants on Raymond Avenue.”

Q: “Because dining bucks will no longer be part of the meal plan, how do students address the increase in cost for those who wish to dine in the Retreat?”
A: “The focus for hot meals made to order will be ACDC and the variety of options at the Retreat may be reduced. The hours and the menu at the Retreat will change, as new options and locations become available for students and the community. If students don’t have time to go off campus, the Arlington Bucks can also be used at the Retreat.”

The committee maintains that the new dining plan is open to discussion and constant change and development are still in progress.

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