Weekend Dining Options Leave Many Students Hungry

By: Tommy Lopez

Wandering around campus on a Saturday evening, freshman Neil Mistry found his stomach rumbling.

Unfortunately for Mistry, the dining options on the VCU meal plan are slim. Shafer Court closed at 9 p.m., and only one section of the Student Commons was open. Looks like it will be Chipotle once more for the already-cash-strapped Mistry.

The VCU Dining Services meal plan features 18 locations and a variety of choices. Unfortunately, weekend hours are shorter than their weekday counterparts due to lower student interest, forcing students to either go hungry or dig deeper into their pockets.

On Fridays, the Shafer Court Dining Center closes at 9 p.m. as opposed to its midnight closings Monday through Thursday, and there are only three other options that offer swipes campus-wide after 7 p.m.

On weekends, no location opens before 10 a.m., and Shafer Court is closed until 10:30 a.m. Some students believe this is a problem as hunger can strike before locations serve food.

“I think Shafer should open much earlier on weekends. I feel like I have a lot of unnecessary spending over the course of the semester on weekends as a result of no morning dining options,” sophomore Michael Levesque said.

On Saturdays, only Chick-fil-A and Bene Pizza in the Commons are open for swipes after 9 p.m. Sundays see similar options as only Bene Pizza and Subway stay open after 9 p.m. and they close at 10 and 10:30 p.m. respectively. Some students find the hours to be restrictive.

“There were times when I wanted to get something to eat and Shafer wasn’t an option because they close early on weekends. I would definitely go to places in the commons more often if they were open later,” freshman Katheryn Witt said.

Chili’s is open on weekends, but they only take dining dollars and not swipes. Shafer Court, the only dining hall on campus, certainly has its benefits. The facility serves hundreds of students each day and offers a variety of choices. While some enjoy their Shafer Court experience, others are left wanting more.

“I don’t really feel that my lack of interest in Shafer is due to their hours of operation, but instead, the quality of their food,” freshman Pooja Patil said. She predicted she will get the smallest meal plan as an upperclassman. ARAMARK representatives have stated that complaints regarding food quality should be vocalized.

Students at other public universities in Virginia do not fare any better. William & Mary has only two of their three dining halls open for a few hours on weekends. They close at 7 p.m. The University of Virginia does not offer substantial food on its plan after 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

No dining hall opens before 10 a.m. at James Madison and most close at 7:30 p.m., leaving only one option until 10 p.m. At Virginia Tech, no place opens before 10 a.m. on weekends and no location is open after 9 p.m. At George Mason 75 percent of the dining areas are closed and Burger King is the only place open before 11 on weekends. However, GMU does have many locations open after 9 p.m.

In summary, students at most state public schools who rely on their meal plan face this dilemma. The problem is that students often go home or eat out on weekends, leaving many places devoid of visitors.

Tamara Highsmith, the dining sales and services manager, says VCU Dining Services determine hours of operation based on how many people eat at each location and when they dine.

“We analyze by-hour customer counts, some locations we expand others we reduce,” Highsmith said. “We encourage students to comment on the hours.”

She noted that one day when only 28 people visited Shafer Court in an hour, the traffic could not support the staff needed to keep the hall open.

Some 8,000 students have the VCU meal plan. The plans range from 300 blocks to five blocks. Out of those students, 2,800 were required to purchase the top tier plan due to their on-campus housing, 600 are juniors and 1,000 are seniors. Dan McDonald, the assistant director for the Department of Business Services, oversees VCU Dining Services and says that even when the plan is not mandatory, students desire to use it.

“A significant number of people choose to have the meal plan,” McDonald said in support of the plan’s popularity. Dining Services also notes that almost as many sophomores as freshman have a plan.

Rebecca Jones, the marketing and public relations manager for the department of business services, says the number of upperclassman with plans demonstrates its value. “Still, many seniors choose to have it,” Jones said.

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