There has been no shortage of complaints about campus dining the last two weeks. There are over 4,000 members of the Stony Brook Dining Feedback group on Facebook, sharing countless photos and dining horror stories. An overwhelming majority of students lament the low quality, high prices and long lines.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for the campus dining situation. Change does not come overnight. It comes with sustained pressure and awareness of the problems faced. However, let’s raise some ideas on what can be done.
The root of the campus dining problem is mandating that residents buy into this system. Currently every student resident must have a meal plan, no matter how overpriced it may be. If this were no longer the case, it would create a domino effect of positive changes.
Michael Sorrentino, a senior psychology major and commuter, said Stony Brook should consider adopting the policies of schools like SUNY Purchase and New Paltz that only mandate that freshmen have meal plans.
“I think this is a great idea because students would have an opportunity to save money and Sodexo would have to work to make us want to spend our money on them,” he wrote, “rather than us paying up front at the start of the semester and being served whatever crap they feel like giving us.”
Stony Brook would have to allow sophomores to have cars on campus. This would probably require an expansion of residential parking lots to accommodate.
Still, this would eliminate Sodexo’s status as a de facto monopoly. In the face of local competition and delivery services, it would be forced to innovate to keep itself profitable on campus. Food would need to be cooked better, more dining options would need to be available, and reasonable healthy portions have to be the norm.
“Nothing in the current system requires a change on the side of the vendor,” Daniel Podolsky, another student, said. “Ending their guaranteed profits would.”
If nothing else changes, at least dinner swipe-in prices should be reduced. It costs $9.95 to get into a dining hall for lunch. While some students indeed take advantage of the buffet, many others eat less or do not have plans that allow for this to be done frequently.
Take Shannon Conley, for example. A value of $9.95 per dinner five times a week quickly adds up because her plan only allows for $1,475 per semester. Like many students, she does not have time to sit in and eat meals in dining halls, especially knowing the quality’s not great.
The two times she ventured into a dining hall accepting swipes had paltry offerings. The first trip had a couple spoonfuls of pasta and a mini slice of pizza. The second one featured another thin pizza slice and a few spoons’ worth of green beans and some spinach.
“Pretty sure both of these trips would be under $10 in anyone else’s mind,” Conley commented, adding that paying eight dollars would be more reasonable.
“I’m tired of paying almost $10 of dining points each time I want to eat to only have burgers, pizza, or salads,” concurred Heather Cannon, a senior environmental studies major.
But should Sodexo be unable to step up, the school should let the food provider go and show prospective students they care about quality.
“I don’t know why the school is so hellbent on these nonsense food providers when literally any franchise would offer better food with lower wait times for less money,” Nicholas Bonvan commented.
Stony Brook should also not be dividing friends or mandating that students stay in halls to eat, especially when their friends cannot enter. These students should be let in. Kait Bristol, a senior sociology and health science major, suggested dividing halls like Roth in half.
Bristol, who has attended three SUNY schools, also suggested drawing from Oneonta’s dining system. There, she said, students can get take-out containers with a small deposit, which is returned upon returning the box. They also have a program called “MyKitchen,” where you can make your own food with provided ingredients, and a designated allergen fridge and clearly labeled options for gluten free food.
“Stony Brook used to have the best food system,” Bristol said. “Now it’s the worst, by far.”
Campus dining and Sodexo should also utilize more staff and pay them more, considering they literally serve thousands of people a day. It’s a tough job.
Last, but not least, add more microwaves. It will make commuters a lot happier. Sure, it will cut into the profit margins, but student satisfaction should be priceless.
So, in short, Stony Brook should no longer mandate that every resident have a meal plan. They should take the best from its sister campuses, offer more clearly labeled dining options, and make quick dining easier. But perhaps most importantly, maybe they should be brave enough to terminate Sodexo’s contract if it doesn’t react to student demand.