The University of Maryland’s Dining Services department implemented an anytime dining plan this semester, departing from its former pay-as-you-go system. Students have given the new program mixed reviews during its first two weeks of operation.
While Dining Services Director Colleen Wright-Riva acknowledges the fact that change can be hard, she said the dining alterations have already been well-received by some students and parents.
“There are so many positive aspects to this change that I know it will meet the needs of our residential community much better that our previous retail model did,” Wright-Riva said, “especially in the semesters and years to come and when we have worked through the transition year.”
The switch to anytime dining from former à la carte operations was prompted largely by student feedback, according to Wright-Riva. All students with dining plans were surveyed last year, which resulted in over 2,200 respondents and hundreds of comments.
Along with the student survey, two private consultants, six focus groups, internal customer service surveys, the Residence Hall Association and the Student Government Association came to the consensus that a change needed to be made to increase student satisfaction, according to Dining Services spokesman Bart Hipple.
Wright-Riva said the new plan focuses on improvements in four areas: food insecurity issues, Dining Services’ environmental footprint, increased menu variety and healthier menu items, as well as community building.
Dining halls no longer offer carryout boxes. In the past, 6.3 million disposable packing items from dining halls ended up in landfills each year, Hipple said. Portable food will still be available at campus cafes and convenience shops, however.
“Not everyone has time to sit in The Diner and eat,” sophomore criminology and criminal justice major Kiah McRae said. “Eating there has become a chore for me.”
Dining Services hopes that the new system will allow dining halls to better function as study or socializing spaces. Seating for smaller groups and individuals, as well as quiet rooms, have also been promised.
“Our long-term vision includes amenities that you [students] have asked for: charging stations, gaming stations and lounge areas,” Hipple said.
Other changes include the use of touchless biometric technology for students’ hands to be scanned to enter the dining halls, increased self-service and quick-service options and the implementation of vegan, smoothie and infused water stations at each dining hall. The Diner and South Campus Dining Hall now open at 7 a.m. Monday to Friday – a half hour earlier than in years past.
“I feel that it’s harder to eat healthier on this new plan with the easily accessible carbs and deserts,” sophomore business major Huw Ball said.
Upgraded resident plans are equipped with Dining Dollars that are accepted at all Dining Services permanent locations, including several Stamp locations. During this year of transition, returning residents will be gifted 80 Dining Dollars in the spring and fall, according to the university’s dining website. Each dining plan also includes a certain number of guest passes each semester.
“The new system takes away the constant need to track points and expands Dining Dollar use, which is really nice,” sophomore supply chain management major Adam Lor said. “It has more food variety, but I think certain types of cuisine are still lacking.”
Wright-Riva said she encourages students to adjust to anytime dining, just as her department is. Dining Services is also willing to listen to student feedback to better meet residents’ dining needs.
“While the fundamentals of Anytime Dining will not change,” Wright-Riva said, “we are always willing to consider new menu items or ways to improve our service to the campus community.”
Featured image by Bryan Gallion.