Campus questions meal plans

The fate of Carnegie Mellon dining is fixed, for the next academic year at least. While the university has chosen to renew its contract with Parkhurst Dining Services, the possibility of dining changes as early as next spring semester was the topic of choice at Thursday’s Senate Spotlight Series.

Representatives from Housing and Dining Services solicited input from the campus community as to possible improvements to the meal plans and campus eating venues.

Kimberly Abel, director of Housing and Dining Services, said that the Parkhurst contract will definitely be renewed for the next academic year. She said they are open, however, to a contract period of just one year if students feel strongly enough about a change in services.

As Carnegie Mellon’s contracted dining service provider, Parkhurst is responsible for formulating the meal plan system.

Parkhurst is charged with operating all of the University Center second-floor venues, in addition to Tartans Pavilion, Carnegie Mellon Café, Maggie Murph Café, and Entropy+, as well as supervising Sí Señor, Taste of India, Asiana, Mitchell’s Main Street Market, La Prima, Ginger’s Deli and Express, and Stephanie’s.

The Underground, Skibo Café, and the Zebra Lounge are all outside vendors. Although they provide a set commission to Parkhurst for using the meal plan system, their operation is not under Parkhurst’s jurisdiction.

A contract with a new dining provider would affect the meal plan system of blocks and DineXtra at all of the venues as well as cause dramatic changes in the venues operated and supervised by Parkhurst.

A number of students present expressed a desire to meet with and explore other contractors in other Senate meetings or campus forums.

However, in the meantime, students made a number of suggestions to improve the current Parkhurst system.

Students were generally pleased with the expansion of the University Center space, including the addition of Entropy+ and Evgefstos!.

“We created different entities to market different nutrition and tastes,” said Ryan Rearick, director of Dining Services.

However, students complained about the pricing and food selection at Entropy+.

Some expressed concern that the markups at Entropy+ were going too far.

“Annually, we will be doing price comparisons and they will have to give us their mark-up ratio. Hopefully we will be able to regulate them,” Abel said of Entropy+.

Another issue that students brought up is that Entropy+ does not offer some of the popular brands that the previous Entropy had regularly carried, such as Pepperidge Farm.

Abel said that the dining office will be looking into acquiring Pepperidge Farm products and others that are no longer available.

However, the concerns of students went beyond their favorite food brands.

A large topic of discussion was the way in which food is paid for.

First-years complained particularly that they are not able to convert their leftover meal blocks into DineXtra.

Addressing this issue, Abel cited the need for blocks to create financial stability and projections for the eating venues as well as a way to ensure that first-years are eating a healthy and well-balanced diet.

Students of all years complained of high pricing for meals at $6 or more and a lack of small meals or parts of meals available for $3–$4, as they are at the Tartans Pavillion.

Some mentioned that the quality of the food is key, not only in ensuring fair pricing, but in providing for the campus community.

“We have a great variety,” said Rotimi Abimbola, a sophomore social and decision sciences major and chair of the Student Senate Business Affairs committee, “We just need to check on the quality and make sure that it is always the same each day.”

Abimbola mentioned Ginger’s as an ideal eating venue.

Other students expressed interest in seeing the nutritional breakdown of the food available at each venue.

However, one of the biggest concerns across all students seemed to be the lack of dining facilities open 24 hours a day.

Abel mentioned that the major obstacle to this mission would be with staffing.

“The majority of our workers use Pittsburgh transportation, and since it does not run for certain hours in the night, they would have no way of getting to their shifts,” she said.

While Abel could not comment on the specifics of how such a plan would work and with what venues it would be tested, she said that if dining offices was committed to the 24-hour mission and ensured of the student’s support, they could begin a test run as early as next spring semester.

Abel reiterated to students the many ways in which they can share their opinions with Dining Services.

E-mails sent to plaid@andrew go directly to Abel and Rearick. The address is meant for students to ask questions, make suggestions, or seek further information on anything related to dining.

In addition, the Dining Advisory Council is open to students, faculty, and staff who want to share their dining experiences with the dining office throughout the school year.

The representatives from Housing and Dining Services said they would take the student concerns back to their office and to Parkhurst where they will thoroughly review them. There is no set date for the announcement of any future improvements.