Freshmen influx leads to crowded dining services, longer lunch hours

Posted March 23, 2018

As the clock strikes noon on the UW-River Falls campus, students begin to file toward the University Center. Their destination is the dining hall, Riverside Commons.

Hundreds of hungry students are about to enter the Commons. The line bottlenecks near the card-swiping stations. As students enter the cafeteria, they scan the room for an open table and have difficulty locating one. They glance at the clock, time is running out before their next class. This is the case for many of the students who enter Riverside Commons during peak lunch and dinner meal times.

Recent increases in student enrollment have placed a strain on the university dining services. This issue is being evaluated by university officials. Some solutions have already been implemented such as meal transfer plans and programs that allow students to take food out of the dining hall.

“Certain times I can’t even find a table for 10 minutes,” Micayla Coble, junior, said.

The 2017-18 academic year saw an 8 1/2 percent increase in meal plans. However, 2010 brought the largest number of meal plans in university history with 3,047 active meal plans.

The 2010 spike in meal plans led to the creation of meal transfer programs including The Rapids, Erbert and Gerbert’s Sandwiches and Einstein Brothers Bagels to alleviate lunch traffic in Riverside. Additional plans are being reviewed to relieve some of the current traffic during peak meal periods.

“The plan is to continue to spread out the lunch crowd by creating a lunch day that runs from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. versus the current noon to 1:00 p.m.,” said Gregg Heinselman, vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “Adding 90 minutes to the lunch day would substantially assist in addressing the peak (crowding).”

Additionally, the Freddy 2GO program was introduced to assist students in peak meal times. The program allows students to collect a container to fill with food to take to classes or back to their dorm room.

Heinselman also addressed concerns with overcrowding during the peak dinner meal period. “Students do like to socialize longer for dinner, so it takes students longer to eat during the dinner meal period,” he said. “However, socialization is an important element to dining as a community, and we see socialization as a positive aspect to the dining program.”

Heinselman  says that there are no current plans to physically expand the existing dining facilities. However, the university will be completing a comprehensive review of the dining program. Information gathered during this review will be utilized in planning for potential expansions.

In addition to concerns over physical space, certain food availability and safety has also been posed issues for certain students during peak meal times.

This is especially true for Olivia DeBels, sophomore, who has Celiac’s disease. This means that she cannot consume any foods that contain gluten.

“The (gluten-friendly) waffle iron and the toaster is not regulated either. I watched someone come over with a regular piece of bread and just popped it in that toaster,” said Debels. “I like the stir fry line but the spatulas they use people go through there with noodles. So they’ll use the spatula on the noodles.”

Rubis says that her team is working with Chartwells, the contracted dining service provider, to address these concerns. “Chartwells … offers an on-site registered dietitians to support students with dietary needs, food allergies and sensitives, and nutrition education.”

Chartwells also offers a specific G8 food station that serves foods without many common allergens, including gluten. “Starting this past fall, Chartwells’ associates now serve guests using a clean plate during peak meal times to further minimize cross contact of food allergens,” Rubis said.

The improvements Chartwells have been somewhat successful, according to Kayla Holicky, registered dietian. However, the options are still very limiting.

“I’m not on a gluten free diet but I have family members who are and the (River Side) dining options are very limiting and there’s very little variety for such a large population who are affected by celiac,” said Emily Thompson, sophomore.