Students react to new dining initiatives

Sophomore Stephen Olympia would be the first to admit that Chartwells Dining Services has implemented a number of changes to on-campus dining during its first year at St. John’s. But whether all of these changes have been good ones is an issue he’d be more than willing to debate.

Namely, Olympia singles out the Trayless Tuesday and Thursday program as his biggest complaint.

“I only eat dinner once a day,” he said. “I come here straight from class, with my backpack on and carrying books, and then I have to juggle plates. It’s very inconvenient.”

But for every student like Olympia, who is vocal about his dislike of Montgoris’ trayless days, there seems to be just as many students in support of the initiative.
Freshman Jason Lopez, for example, is fine with going trayless.

“I’m supportive of what they’re trying to do,” he said. “Whatever helps, I’m willing to go along with it.”

Trayless Tuesday and Thursday is just one of many changes that Chartwells Dining Services has implemented during its first year with the University, and, like some of its other changes, the program has been met with a fairly even split of student supporters and detractors. The aim of the initiative, according to St. John’s administrators, is to reduce the amount of water used to clean trays and, as a result, contribute to the University’s attempt at reducing its carbon footprint and saving the environment.

Ken Waldhof, executive director of Auxiliary Services at St. John’s, stressed that the goal of having trayless days is entirely to help with the conservation effort.

“The University as a whole is attempting to reduce its carbon footprint,” he said. “This is just an extension of those efforts.”

According to Waldhof, the idea of going trayless came about during the summer and is a strategy that a number of schools have adopted.

“Some schools went cold turkey,” Waldhof said. “We took a conservative approach. We went into the semester and made two days trayless. We took a student survey and found that 69 percent of students supported Trayless Tuesday and Thursday, and a high percentage said they would voluntarily give up their tray on other days.”

Waldhof went on to note that they considered expanding the amount of trayless days going into the Spring 2009 semester, but decided against it until “we make sure we have student support.”

He also mentioned that students can obtain trays on Tuesdays and Thursdays upon special request.

Students like Olympia, though, remain skeptical of the real reasons for implementing trayless days.

“If the University really wanted to be environmentally friendly, they’d drop Coca-Cola and other corporate sponsors, like Nike, which implement horrible practices and damage the environment,” he said.

But there have certainly been some students who have responded more positively to the initiative. For example, freshman Noah Lease said that he would not mind an expansion of trayless days, and noted that he has already gotten used to the current two trayless days.

“At first, I’m sure it would be a bit of a pain to get used to,” he said. “But after a while, I would get used to it. It’s really not that big a deal, and it helps the environment.”

But the benefit of trayless days goes beyond just reducing the school’s carbon footprint. According to St. John’s officials, it is also saving money for the University – money that is being spent on other additions to St. John’s dining facilities, including the Marillac meal exchange, which, officials said, is an example of how the University is using the money and not charging students for it.

According to Waldhof, the meal exchange has been receiving more than 1,000 students nightly. Future additions to dining on campus, officials said, include a diner-type burger joint at St. Vincent Hall, which the University hopes to have open by the end of the semester, and a food court in the new Student Center, complete with a Starbucks.

But not all of the additions Chartwells has brought with it have been met with enthusiasm.

According to Edward Taraskewich, resident district manager of Chartwells, late-night dining at Montgoris, for example, only registers around 50 to 75 students a night, and is not boasting the types of sales that most administrators expected.

St. John’s officials say this lack of enthusiasm may be attributed to the location, since Montgoris, Waldhof said, may be viewed as “a bit more institutional.”

Future late-night dining options, officials said, like the St. Vincent’s dining, will feature booth seating and a different atmosphere from Montgoris.

Still, perhaps the biggest complaint from students is the hours of operation for Montgoris Dining Hall.

Lease, who gets out of class at 9:40 p.m. on some nights, does not like that Montgoris is only open until 8:30 p.m.

“My only option is Marillac, and at that time, there are usually only a few things available, like Taco Bell.,” he said. “It’s a bit annoying.”

Olympia, meanwhile, faces an even bigger problem. He has three night classes a week that get out at 9:40 p.m., and cites the hours as a major complaint he has with St. John’s dining.

“They need to increase their hours here,” he said. “The lifestyle college breeds is nocturnal, and these hours just don’t accommodate that.”

Administrators and Chartwells officials are hopeful that future additions can be made to dining on campus and that some of the money saved from trayless days can go towards that.

“We’re constantly looking at how to expand hours – and, of course, there are financial implications with that,” said Taraskewich.

“We just want to be responsible. If we add hours, will that impact the students? Will it affect pricing? We are just looking at everything very carefully and thoughtfully to make sure we meet everybody’s expectations.”