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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Lots of change, some progress: A review of Campus Dining

We are starting to see some changes in Campus Dining, but just because things are different, doesn’t necessarily mean they have improved.
Alexa White
Graphic depicting various food and cutlery found in campus dining halls. (Hustler Multimedia/Alexa White)

When I first arrived on campus last year, dining was one of the largest complaints I and many of my fellow students had. We heard a myriad of reasons from Campus Dining as to why it could not provide the award-winning quality we had been promised on the tours we took as high school students. Yet, students continued to struggle to find edible, appetizing or allergen-free food.

Perhaps in response to some of our concerns, Campus Dining rolled out some updates this semester. Let’s take a look at some of the changes Campus Dining made this semester and see if they are progressive or regressive.

Opening Rothschild Dining Hall

Rating: Decent

The opening of Rothschild Dining Hall is one of the largest additions that has been made to Campus Dining this year. The biggest effect of this change is that it alleviates capacity pressure from the other dining facilities. The food has been alright overall, but day-to-day quality definitely varies. I have found myself walking into Rothschild determined to try something new, but by the time I check out the other food options, I find myself back in the burger line—which is satisfyingly consistent. The dining hall also tends to be a bit crowded, but I hope that should die down as the year progresses and its novelty wears off.

All-you-care-to-eat at Commons

Rating: Great

Commons Dining is not traditionally the subject of great praise, but the switch to all-you-care-to-eat is greatly appreciated. Allowing students to take as much food as they want for 45 minutes is an effective way to make sure everyone gets enough to eat. It also gives first-years (and their worried parents) who are transitioning to college life the assurance that they will not go hungry. This change was very well implemented with the addition of the motion-sensor gates—no need to rebalance your plate of pizza to check out. Best of all, these gates allow more students to scan into the dining hall quicker while having fewer dining staff working the register, a creative way to contend with Campus Dining’s staffing shortages.

VisionPass biometric scanners

Rating: Pointless

I wanted to separate this addition from the rest of the dining changes at Commons so as to not detract from its improvements. But the addition of the VisionPass biometric scanners is, in my opinion, a waste of time and money since these scanners do not really add any value. Most students carry their phones on them to get into buildings on campus, so it is very easy for students to scan into dining halls. I doubt it saves any time to use a biometric scan instead, especially given the time it would take to set a VisionPass profile up. Campus Dining really should focus their efforts elsewhere.

The reopening of The Pub 

Rating: On the right track, but not there yet 

The most important takeaway here is that The Pub is open! However, the reopening has been a bit lackluster in my opinion. In theory, the sole option of mobile ordering is effective and time-saving. We can place orders significantly in advance, giving Campus Dining ample time to prepare our meals according to our selected pick-up time. Sadly, this unspoken agreement is not always being fulfilled on Campus Dining’s end. Some students have waited 30 or more minutes beyond their scheduled pick-up time for a meal they ordered hours in advance. To add insult to injury, sometimes food ordered for the next pick-up time slot is ready before earlier ones. When one person in a group finishes eating before another gets their food—despite ordering their food for the same pick-up time—it makes it difficult to have a meal with others. 

Other minor complaints: The Pub’s milkshakes are not available for a meal swipe (only Meal Money and Commodore Cash), and it has limited hours. It is peculiar to me that a place called “The Pub” is closed on Fridays and Saturdays; it would also be nice to have The Pub as a lunch option instead of its current hours of 3-8 p.m. CDT. Lastly, there are some other Pub staples that have yet to return, like seating on the balcony and serving alcohol.

However, I know restarting something that was paused for over two years may be a bit bumpy and take some time. I just hope this reopening is simply the beginning of The Pub’s return, not just a bone Campus Dining has thrown to the students to keep us minimally content.

“All-Access” meal plan

Rating: Terrible

This idea was a huge swing and a miss for Campus Dining. Students wanted choice in our meal plans, but the so-called “All-Access” meal plan was not what we meant. This plan allows students unlimited access to the four residential dining halls but limits students to one swipe per day at a retail dining location. Getting this plan means paying more for fewer options. 

For example, with my standard 19-swipe meal plan, I could get a coffee at Suzie’s in the morning, head to Rand for lunch and get dinner at Kissam without a problem. If I tried the same thing with the “All-Access” plan, my access is cut off after my morning coffee. After that, I would only have access to the dining halls that are already “all-you-care-to-eat.”

The most concerning part of this plan is that it may trick nervous first-years and their parents into paying more money for fewer options. Before arriving on campus, I did not know that 21 meal swipes each week would be more than enough, and I did not understand how often I would eat at different types of dining locations on campus. I fear those in the Class of 2026 may have fallen head-first into this trap.

Continuous hours at residential college dining halls

Rating: Decent

Sometimes, our schedules work out in a way that makes it difficult to eat meals at more traditional times. Keeping some dining halls open through the gaps between major meals is a good way to expand our options. 

Hours of operation could still be further expanded. Closing at 8 p.m. CDT each night is still a bit early, especially for students who may need to eat later due to evening classes and activities. Weekend hours starting at 9 a.m. CDT are also problematic for early birds who are ready to get a start on their day but must wait until the dining halls open.

Fill it Forward containers

Rating: On the right track, but not there yet

This program seems to have noble intent, so I give it an A for effort. “Fill it Forward” is a new system of reusable to-go containers. When students bring back a used container, they scan it in with their phone and a small donation is made to a partner charity. It offers a great opportunity to promote sustainability and donate to good causes. 

However, poor implementation of a well-meaning program is still poor implementation. Sometimes it is not possible to bring these bulky containers (that often contain food residue) everywhere, as they are not disposable. I appreciate the intent behind this program, but I do not think Campus Dining should have completely eliminated the disposable container option for residential dining halls. 

Munchie Marts

Rating: Terrible

Students made calls last year to expand meal swipes to include everything offered in the Munchie Marts. Campus Dining ignored our requests and, instead, cleared out some of the food that was available on meal swipes to make room for them to sell spirit wear in certain Munchie Marts. When we are short on time and the Rand line is too long, grabbing something from a Munchie Mart is our best option. It seems like the university is just trying to squeeze our last pennies out of us when we are just trying to eat lunch. This lack of change was a step in the wrong direction.

Overall sentiment

Campus Dining has made some major, structural changes: Dining options are expanding and efforts are being made to better accommodate students.  Yet, there is still plenty of room to continue making improvements. All in all, these changes show that students’ feedback is clearly considered by administrators—an overall step in the right direction.

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About the Contributors
Daniel Sak, Senior Staff Writer
Daniel Sak (‘25) is from Shelby Township, Mich., and is majoring in human and organizational development, political science and communication studies in Peabody College. Outside of The Hustler, Daniel serves as the president of Anchor Marketing. He can be reached at [email protected].
Alexa White, Former Graphics Director
Alexa White ('23) is from Traverse City, Michigan, and is double-majoring in secondary education and English. When she isn't writing for The Hustler, she is probably teaching, reading or creating art. After graduation, Alexa plans to be an English teacher and hopes to inspire kids to love reading, writing and exploring their creativity in all forms. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Class of 2022
1 year ago

It has always been ridiculous that the Pub was closed on weekends. It paints itself as a sports bar, then closes during the times I would most want to be at a sports bar. Vanderbilt likes to act like we are only around campus when we are taking class. They force everyone to live on campus then keep everything closed.

not on a meal plan anymore
1 year ago

Crazy how far campus dining will go to intentionally misconstrue the simplest requests from students in the name of progress. The blatant deceit in the so-called “All-Access” meal plan is especially and ingeniously villainous, and the worst part is I shouldn’t be surprised. At least some things are getting better?