Campus dining: Does it need to be changed?

Colby’s on-site dining service provider Bon Appétit has a history of being very accommodating and open to changes. Bon Appétit maintains an open forum of reviews, suggestions, compliments and complaints, each posted on bulletin boards in every dining halls on campus. 

These have been very positive overall, and what few criticisms were submitted have mostly been addressed. In 2017, Roberts Dining Hall introduced a taqueria option and Dana started offering performance bowls, both of which were inspired by student feedback.

Although the food service provider is a nationwide company based on the West Coast, many of the staff members are Waterville-area residents, which fosters a sense of community and familiarity between staff and students. In a small school like Colby, staff members get to know familiar faces in the friendly community. It is common to see students chatting with dining hall greeters, chefs, and others. As welcoming as these dining areas are, they do come with a certain limitation— between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. each night there is no place on or off campus to eat a meal using the College’s board plan. As a result, ambitious early birds and studious night owls alike are forced to resort to dorm room snacks or off-campus eateries, for the most part.

True, the Joseph Family Spa, located in the College’s Cotter Union, has extended hours to accomodate for evening cravings and midnight snacks. The Spa stays open from as early as 7 a.m. until midnight, 1 a.m., or even 2 a.m. during the week, depending on the day. 

However, the Spa’s main purpose is a glorified snack bar and social gathering point on campus. It has a somewhat limited menu, focusing mostly on hot sandwiches and dishes, as well as drinks and grab-and-go style snacks. 

The main limitation to the Spa, however, is that it is not covered by either of the College’s board plans. Although students are offered a once-a-week meal covered by the board plan, this is only available before 8 p.m. This leaves the issue of accessing food under the meal plan outside of regular dining hall hours largely unaddressed.

One possible workaround to the limitation of dining hours comes in the form of Caporale’s “Take 4” service. Students can use their meal swipes to quickly pick up one entree dish and three snacks, from an à la carte style selection of items. 

Personally, I’ve found myself and my roommates stopping by Caporale during the middle of the day with the intention of eating lunch at one of the dining halls and leaving the Take 4 food for later that evening, in anticipation of late-night cravings. When asked to speak from experience, a Colby student pointed out the benefit of this option.

“If taken advantage of properly, Take 4 is a solid option for a late night meal without having to spend any additional money,” one student who preferred to remain anonymous said.

However, this strategy is not fool-proof. Many students elect to use Take 4 as a portable lunch, and others may not be able to make it to Caporale during its hours of operation (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) due to class or other engagements.

One surefire way to combat this issue would be to extend the hours of operation for one (or multiple) of the on-campus dining halls. Dana already offers dinner until 9 p.m., a full two hours later than any other dining area at Colby. This additional two-hour window lets students eat much later, at a modest cost – by 8 p.m., most of the food available is leftover from the dinner rush, and students are encouraged to eat on the upper level so that the nighttime crew are able to start cleaning up for the evening. Since minimal amounts of food need to be prepared past 8 p.m., both chefs and sanitary workers can begin to shut the dining hall down for the night, even while dinner is available for students.

By extending the window of operation by just two hours, the need for a late-night or early-morning meal would be immediately serviced. After a late-night workout at the gym or before a sunrise jog, students would have the ability to grab a bite and maintain healthy habits, rather than mold their dining schedules around rigid hours.

Both the College and Bon Appétit have proven to be flexible within reason, given enough feedback from the student base. It should be no stretch of imagination to picture the possibility of longer hours of operation for dining halls, provided that a sufficiently large number of students share a similar viewpoint. Considering the wide spectrum of varied schedules for more than 2,000 hungry stomachs, it may not be so surprising if a change is indeed implemented.