Last month, Mason Dining held a meeting with a variety of different food service companies, all of which were potential bidders to be the next food provider for Mason.
University officials outlined several stipulations and obligations that the company would have to meet if it were to work for Mason, one of them being moving towards anytime dining.
“We want to provide 24/7 dining by changing the hours of our dining halls to create a valued dining experience,” said Mark Kraner, Executive Director of Campus Retail Operations.
It is this valued dining experience that Kraner believes anytime dining will provide. The plan starts with building more university regulated dining halls.
Starting in 2013, Ike’s in Presidents Park will be closed and replaced by a dining hall similar to Southside that will seat 385 people that will service the Shenandoah neighborhood.
Furthermore, plans are beginning to take shape to build a dining hall for the Aquia neighborhood between 2015 and 2016.
These two construction projects, combined with the library expansion, a new residence hall and the removal of a lecture hall would not only dramatically change the layout of Mason’s campus, but also change the system of dining on campus.
“These dining halls would be open 24 hours a day, and there would be no swiping to get in,” Kraner said.
This new system would essentially throw out the current meal plan structure that breaks it down between swipes per semester and week. Instead, students would choose from a variety of plans, all of which would give them unlimited access to the dining halls on campus at all times, but would have different amounts of points to be used across campus at locations such as Chick-fil-a and Taco Bell.
According to Kraner, the current dining structure on campus creates a variety of barriers that make establishing a community more difficult.
“You should be able to walk out of Southside, see some more friends walking in and then join them without having to be penalized for using another meal plan,” said Kraner. “The goal is to create the value, take away the barriers, and create the community.”
This community demand has been felt by other universities across the country who have already implemented anytime dining as a solution.
“We began anytime dining roughly five years ago. Since then, we have seen an increase in the amount of students who sign up for meal plans,” said Jon Plodzik, Director of Dining Services at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).
The university, with only five thousand students on campus, has a total of nine thousand students and faculty on full meal plans due to the success of their program.
UNH has created dining facilities that do not require students to check or swipe in. Instead, students may come and go as they please in order to maximize the efficiency of the program.
“We are able to supply a demand that students want while providing a community that they enjoy,” Plodzik said.
At Mason, the community that on-campus dining is servicing is composed of those students with meal plans, of which there are many.
According to meal plan summaries provided by Kraner, 60 percent of students who are not required to have meal plans have one, and while 50 percent of students who live in apartments have full meal plans.
These numbers are evidence that students are reliant upon Mason dining to meet their nutrition and dietary needs, something the current meal plan structure works against. Due to the Friday morning expiration on weekly meal plans, students spend Thursday nights in line at Pilot House and Ikes as a way to use up left over meal plans, encouraging binge eating. On the flip side, Kraner says that students also run out of meal plans, forcing them to go without eating.
“We do not want to create bad eating habits, and anytime dining is a way to curb that,” Kraner said.
Despite the promise anytime dining holds for Mason, Kraner says it will not happen quickly.
“This is still a conversation. Nothing has been approved. However, I am a proponent of it because I think it will be good for Mason,” Kraner said.