News | Student Life

During breaks, no place to go for student diners

  • FOOD FIGHT | Ferris Booth Commons is one of three dining halls open to students on meal plans. All three are closed during Thanksgiving break and other academic holidays, frustrating some students.

With all the dining halls on campus closed during fall break two weeks ago, twin sisters Ananda and India Gonzalez, CC ’16, ended up eating at the cheapest diners in the area, sometimes choosing to eat two instead of three meals a day to save money.

“It’s ridiculous,” Ananda Gonzalez said. “It’s not fair to our wallets. We’re college students who can’t always pay extra for food.”

Though the sisters won’t be around during Thanksgiving, many students who plan on remaining on campus are wondering where they will be able to eat this weekend.

Aubrey Alston, SEAS ’16, started an online petition in advance of fall break asking the administration to keep some dining halls open. The petition has received 60 signatures, largely from first-years.

“The current policies of Columbia Dining subject these students to undue burden,” Alston said.

“What are you supposed to do if you’re staying?” Brit Byrd, CC ’15, said. “I’m sure there are students who aren’t comfortable paying for a meal every day in this neighborhood for three days.”

But according to Vicki Dunn, executive director for Columbia Dining, keeping dining halls open during fall break, Thanksgiving, and spring break could increase meal plan costs for all students by an estimated 7 percent to cover operating and labor costs.

“When asked about operating dining during breaks, most students were not interested,” Dunn said in an email. She added that when Butler Café was open for part of fall break, there were only 200 customers per day, compared to about 2,000 during usual hours.

Columbia College Student Council representative Peter Bailinson, CC ’16 and a Spectator development associate, said that students on financial aid are more likely to be unable to afford to travel home for breaks.

“Many of the students here over break are less likely to have the disposable income needed to get expensive food here in New York,” he said. “Some sort of stipulation could be made for these people who are on aid.”

However, Bailinson said he realizes keeping the dining halls open during breaks is not feasible because of the cost.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Dunn said Flex was introduced as a way to allow students to eat off campus without directly impacting their wallets. However, Flex is charged to students’ accounts on top of meal plan costs.

“I don’t really use Flex … I end up using card or cash,” Theo Buchsbaum, CC ’14, said. “My allowance didn’t account for that.”

Bailinson said Flex is “great for students that are able to get financial help from their parents, but we’re not all that fortunate.” He said he is interested in an agreement with the financial aid office to introduce a Flex component into grants.

“We think that this could be a real solution that’s really helping some students who just can’t leave campus,” he said.

Harvard, Yale, and Cornell all have dining halls that are open for breaks. Dining plans at those schools, however, are between 10 percent and 25 percent more expensive than Columbia plans, Dunn said.

In the meantime, students say more advance notice about dining hall closures would help them plan their meals better. During his first year, “I came to fall break being half surprised,” Buchsbaum said.

“It’d be better if they made it known that the dining halls wouldn’t be open,” he said.

Bailinson said CCSC used Facebook and emails to inform students, but “we can’t be in contact with everyone,” he said. He said that the dining staff was also busy before fall break to prepare for Hurricane Sandy.

Over Thanksgiving, some students might be using the closure to explore the diverse culinary options of New York City.

“It gives us an opportunity to go out into the city and find other places to eat,” Leslie Ayuk-Takor, CC ’16, said. “I don’t think it’s that big a deal, actually.”

news@columbiaspectator.com

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rick131 posted on

Columbia, with its international reputation, drawing students and faculty from all over the world, needs to keep at least one on campus dining option open during vacations and breaks. I think the involved students would be willing to pay a little more, but something needs to be open. Many students can't afford to fly back home, especially on short breaks.

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Anonymous posted on

Why is this a story? This is an "issue" every year for freshmen. Not news. It's getting old hearing freshmen complain about this year in and year out. No one wants to pay significantly more than they already for their meal plan just to keep dining halls open an extra 8 days during the year when a lot of people won't be around. Why is there no institutional memory? Councils should be answering these qus once and making the answers very public.

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Anonymous posted on

News is far more than just "breaking news." And, uh, seeing as how you've just complained about it, there is demand to slightly increase the cost of meal plans (or do a la carte) if it means the dining halls are open. Believe it or not, it shouldn't be difficult for an Ivy League school to have competitively priced and substantial food options on campus all year. Many students live near campus and/or don't have the trust fund to fly back to California for summer or the holidays and would avail ourselves of this.

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Anonymous posted on

We have virtually no say (plus there's no transparency) over how much food "costs" i.e. if they say we have to pay X more to keep dining halls open then we can't really contest that (they don't seem to be inclined to do it anyway, even if we wanted to). You don't need a trust fund to fly back home for a holiday, you just need a little bit of cash (one way to make this money is to get a job) to buy some food until the dining halls open again.

News is not "hey, it's winter". Sandy is news. Snow isn't. Really. This happens every year, therefore it's not news. News includes the word NEW, might I remind you.

And finally:
He said he is interested in an agreement with the financial aid office to introduce a Flex component into grants.

So this is what I don't get. People with financial aid get grants. Why don't they just use the grant money in these packages to buy food over holidays? It's your money. Why make some portion of your grant Flex-only so that you're further limited on how you can spend it? This argument makes no sense.

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Anonymous posted on

The foodservice standard is that food costs are 33% of the actual price. I know this because I do have a foodservice job as a GS student on food stamps. Even if GSers did have full-need aid, believe it or not, a round trip to California would still be prohibitively expensive for the average American...middle class people, such layabouts, right?

Despite accounting for the generous (and well-deserved) union benefits for Columbia workers, the school is making a substantial and unnecessary profit. The fact that Columbia is notoriously opaque doesn't mean that having no say is our destiny. I don't really feel like going over food accounting here but suffice it to say that if Amir's can pay rent and still sell meals to few people a day for under $8, and if Strokos can offer multiple options across the street from John Jay for $8, there's no reason except greed for Columbia to charge more.

and your appraisal of news is simply wrong. This is a trend on campus, same as any other analysis story about more international students or the size of our obscene endowment or whatever.

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Anonymous posted on

The CCSC Communications Committee will be launching an online platform next semester that allows students to voice concerns and suggestions on a public forum and lets others to up-vote, down-vote, and comment on these concerns. This will create a priority list for councils and administrators. However, most pertinent to the issue you raise is that the platform will feature FAQ and responses, and any student will be able to search issues that have been posted and answered in past years. It will also document any previous steps taken to resolve the issue in order to prevent future students from re-inventing the wheel or facing the same roadblocks time and time again.

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Anonymous posted on

Meals via meal plan are actually very expensive, probably more so than meals at many places in the area.

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