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Dash and dine: Housing and Dining introduces pilot programs

Housing and Dining to roll out Saturday dinner, extended dining hours and grab-and-go breakfast

Photo by Phyllis | and Phyllis The Rice Thresher

By Amber Tong     9/6/16 11:33pm

Three pilot programs for meal service, namely Saturday dinner, a later dinner option on weekdays and grab-and-go breakfast are coming to Seibel, South and North serveries respectively, according to Housing and Dining Senior Business Director David McDonald. He said he hopes the projects will respond to various student needs, ranging from financial constraints, time restrictions and scheduling conflicts.

The new Saturday dinner service will be available beginning Sept. 17 from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. in Seibel and students may pay with tetra points or any unused guest swipes. McDonald said this new option ties into the larger conversation about low-income students’ experience at Rice.

“Saturday dinner is purposefully not there because the idea was that students would go beyond the hedges Saturday night,” McDonald said. “But now we are in a different situation. We’re in an age where not everybody has enough capital to be able to go beyond the hedges.”

McDonald said he is coordinating with the dean’s office, the Student Association and residential colleges to finalize details such as pricing and menu. He said he does not want to detract people from student groups offering dinner at their Saturday night events, but thinks accessibility is an important consideration that trumps smaller concerns.

Starting on Sept. 6, Mondays through Thursdays, a menu modelled on the dinner of the same day will be offered from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m at the South servery annex. Students may use their evening meal swipe if they have a meal plan and haven’t swiped at another servery, or tetra points to pay for the meal.

According to McDonald, this new option will cater to athletes who have practice or students who have classes during normal dinner times.

“We hear it anecdotally, but we also feel like we need to respond to students’ needs when we can operationally,” McDonald said. “This is one of those times that we feel like we are going to try and see how it goes.”

SA Vice President Hannah Todd, who worked with H&D to bring the changes, said her ideas originated from the responses to a survey she sent out to Wiess College in fall 2015, when she was a senator.

“A common theme was frustration with the meal plan’s rigidity and I saw real potential for a project,” Todd, a junior, said. “From there, [H&D] and I on behalf of the SA produced a survey for all students that reflected similar sentiments. To summarize a long answer, yes, this was something students wanted.”

Todd said the future of these programs will depend on students’ reaction to them.

“I am not positive about the complete timeline for the project but I do know that if the late dinners or Saturday night dinners are not being used, these options will be removed,” Todd said. “Regarding plans for other serveries, I think that it really all hinges on what happens at Seibel and South in their associated pilots.”

A separate experiment with grab-and-go breakfast items came out of the observation that the reason students don’t eat breakfast is that they don’t have enough time in the morning, according to McDonald.

“One of the things that we hear about the most from students is why do we have to pay for breakfast when I don’t eat breakfast?” McDonald said. “Then it occurred to us that maybe we are just serving the wrong breakfast.”

The new menu will retain most ingredients currently being offered and alternate between various pre-made items like breakfast tacos, sandwiches and biscuits. McDonald said he hopes more students will eat breakfast after the introduction of these new options.

“People just don’t see the time value of sitting down for breakfast,” McDonald said. “We’ve just gotten to the point in our culture that it is ‘fuel.’ But it’s got to be very easily accessible to all.”

The goal is to offer take-out breakfast in all serveries by Oct. 1, McDonald said. He added that all the pilots will be offered throughout the semester and H&D will make adjustments next year based on the outcome.

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