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Campus dining directors weigh in on changes

| Monday, September 25, 2017

Although the renovations to North Dining Hall (NDH) were the most obvious innovations made to the student dining experience this semester, changes to the structures of Grab ’n Go and flex points have also affected how students eat on campus.

Grab ’n Go has been replaced at NDH with the Marketplace — which requires flex points — and flex points have been increased to 500 per a semester.

Senior director of campus dining, Chris Abayasinghe, said the changes were made based on student feedback, and expects this year will be a year of “adjustment,” especially after the eateries in Campus Crossroads open.

“This is a continuing conversation for us,” he said. “ … We know last year when we increased flex points, we know that our students used all of their flex points. What was interesting was what they were buying with it, which is very similar to what we have in the Marketplace: certain snack-related foods, but also salads and make-your-own items.”

The Marketplace has replaced Grab ’n Go at North Dining Hall. The new dining venue features a la carte snack and meal options, but does not take meal swipes. Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
The Marketplace has replaced Grab ’n Go at North Dining Hall. The new dining venue features a la carte snack and meal options, but does not take meal swipes.

Many of the changes made were to increase the “value proposition,” director of student dining Scott Kachmarik said. Abayasinghe said moving from the “meal equivalency” of Grab ’n Go to using flex points at places like the Marketplace helps with this.

“It’s never really equivalent to a meal in a dining hall,” he said. “What we attempted to do with the flex points is allow you to say, ‘Hey, today I’m coming in for lunch, and I’m going to buy these three items.’”

Rather than using Grab ’n Go for their third meal, Kachmarik said students were taking advantage of using multiple swipes at once — another change this semester — to stock up on snack food.

“Anecdotally, we know meal counts are up in the dining halls, and meal counts are up in Grab ’n Go,” he said. “What we’re finding in Grab ’n Go, and we’re looking into that, is that it’s the snack food that’s going out, not the meals.

“ … They’re not getting that third meal, so that tells us those increased flex points are what people are using for that third meal. The usage of Grab ’n Go is also changing, and we’ll figure it out through fall break and in the weeks after fall break.”

Reggie Kalili, assistant director of marketing for campus dining, said the difference between using meal swipes at Grab ’n Go and flex points at other venues “seems like semantics.”

“It’s all part of the meal plan, and we did allocate flex points because we knew the marketplace was going to be a little different than Grab ’n Go,” he said. “I know people have been in the Marketplace and have really loved what’s there, so I don’t think there’s a negative to that or what they’re purchasing — an acai bowl, for example. They’re totally different concepts.”

While Abayasinghe said the plan is not necessarily to phase out Grab ’n Go — that will depend on feedback and usage, he said — the choice to not include something similar to the Marketplace in South Dining Hall (SDH) was based on how the facility is designed.

“This really comes down to a design in infrastructure,” he said. “We were very, very intentional in how we designed the Marketplace, and also all of North Dining Hall.

“ … The traditional Grab ’n Go that we have in South Dining Hall — we’re kind of limited in what we can do there, infrastructure-wise. You know how tiny that space is, and once you get the refrigeration in there, the ability to create the Marketplace [in SDH] doesn’t really exist.”

Kalili said that while the Marketplace doesn’t exist in SDH yet, the plan was to include one in the future.

“Had we had the logistics and the space [in SDH], we would have put it here as well, he said. “So when [SDH] gets renovated again, we’re definitely going to be adding a Marketplace here.”

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley was Assistant Managing Editor for The Observer. She majored in English and the Program of Liberal Studies and hailed from Flushing, Michigan.

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