Committee issues pilot recommendations for undergraduate dining

The Princeton University Board Plan Review Committee has developed initial recommendations to enhance the dining experience for undergraduates starting in fall 2017. The changes will be implemented as a one-year pilot program and will inform the committee's ongoing review of undergraduate board plans.

The committee spent this academic year evaluating undergraduate meal plans as it develops recommendations for new dining options that support the diverse needs of Princeton's students. Executive Director of Campus Dining Smitha Haneef and Dean of Rockefeller College Oliver Avens co-chair the group of staff and students.

Meanwhile, a new graduate board plan committee will work this semester to evaluate dining options and meal plans for graduate students. The committee of staff and graduate students will be co-chaired by Haneef and Lisa Schreyer, associate dean for student life in the Graduate School, and expects to make recommendations that may take effect next academic year.

"The student experience at Princeton centers on a strong sense of community," Haneef said. "We support that community through our food programs and value this opportunity to conduct a comprehensive review to understand student preferences. Today we serve the University's most historically diverse student body in terms of their cultural preferences, religious affiliations, ethnicity, national, and socioeconomic status. Many are first-generation college students. Through the work of the board plan review committee, we aspire to deliver on the goals of the University broadly and boldly."

Avens said the University hasn't had a full review of undergraduate meal plans in more than a decade. As part of its work, the committee collected student input through focus groups and comments submitted through its website.

"This is a good opportunity to learn from students about how dining choices are made today and how we can best support the diverse needs of students. The changes we are recommending are the result of feedback we heard from students," Avens said. "We're very pleased that more than 160 students attended our focus groups in the fall to tell us about how and where they eat on and off campus. We heard about the importance of flexibility and access, the desire for healthy and affordable food choices, as well as how dining plays a role in building different communities."

Based on the committee's recommendations, Campus Dining will implement a set of short-term recommendations for the 2017-18 academic year. Meanwhile, the committee will continue to evaluate dining options as it considers longer-term recommendations.

Under the pilot proposal, the Block 95 meal plan will be enhanced with new dining points. The plan (available to juniors, seniors and graduate students) can currently be used at the dining halls and for some meals at the Frist Campus Center Food Gallery.

The additional 250 dining points will be available for use at nine campus cafés: Frist Food Gallery, Café Vivian, Witherspoon café, Woodrow Wilson School café, E-Quad café, Frick Chemistry café, Genomics café, Chancellor Green café and the Atrium café. Students also will be able to use the dining points to eat on campus during break weeks. The cost of the Block 95 plan will remain the same next year. The dining points would not apply to shared block meal plan holders.

"I think the ability to use dining points to eat at many different retail cafés on campus will be a program we may want to expand, if it proves to be popular," Avens said. "It will lessen the congestion in certain dining halls at lunch time as well as give students more eating options close to where they are taking their classes."

Other pilot proposals that will be adopted in the fall include:

  • Offering breakfast hours on Saturday and Sunday at one residential college dining hall, in addition to regular brunch hours on weekends.
  • Improving communications to students through the creation of a new dining information website. The new site will better publicize existing options, such as the "Lunch to Go" bagged lunch program, as well as announce pilot programs that Campus Dining may test to learn more about students' dining habits and preferences.
  • Upgrading the technology used for the Meal Exchange Program, which makes it possible for students with meal plans to sometimes dine at eating clubs without the expenditure of additional funds. Rather than filling out a paper form, students would use an electronic system for meal exchanges.
  • Increasing the variety of Late Meal options at the Frist Food Gallery to reflect students' interest in healthier eating.
  • Standardizing the menu of late night snacks at the residential colleges.

The committee will continue to evaluate undergraduate dining plans and consider changes that could take effect in fall 2018. Among other ideas, the committee will consider establishing a continuously operating dining venue and new dining options on the east side of campus.