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Alternating extended hours at dining halls has potential to better serve students

UCLA Dining boasts an award-winning array of all-you-can-eat dining restaurants and take-out services. Many of these dining halls operate during standard business hours, but this forces students with afternoon and daytime classes to wait in line in at take-out facilities or submit to eating bland Mediterranean food at Covel. (Elise Tsai/Daily Bruin)

By Andrew Raychawdhuri

April 22, 2019 10:38 p.m.

UCLA never fails to boast about its award-winning dining options on the Hill.

It’s just a shame that some students can’t experience them.

With classes, club meetings and jobs, Bruins have busy schedules that make it difficult to return to the Hill during the standard hours of the four all-you-can-eat dining halls. These facilities are often open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for dinner from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., except for Covel, which is open for an hour longer during lunch and dinner.

This means the many students who have midday classes or activities at night have to resign themselves to eating hummus or take-out for their substantial meals. Award-winning, all right.

But at the end of the day, undergraduates are paying large sums for their meal plans. Being provided with the same after-hours dining hall option each day isn’t good enough for these high prices. Students’ schedules might not always fit the regular dining hall hours – especially with the university seemingly pushing for morning and after-hours classes because of overcrowding – but that shouldn’t disadvantage them.

Students living on the Hill pay for UCLA Dining’s variety. The university should thus rotate which residential restaurants have extended hours to ensure Bruins who find themselves eating late can experience the nutritional variety they are charged for.

After all, the value of students’ meals plans stems from the fact that they can go to the four residential restaurants and have access to a cornucopia of food. The average swipe is worth around $8 and many food options at take-out restaurants are valued at less with EasyPay.

The residential restaurants are clearly the best deal on the Hill.

That is, if students have the chance to eat at them.

UCLA Dining, in an attempt to alleviate this problem, offers take-out options at restaurants like Bruin Cafe and Rendezvous. But when the dining halls close, these eateries clog up with student orders and can be time-consuming for students trying to grab a meal.

Alexxa Vasquez, a third-year cognitive science student, said she thinks dining halls are more accessible for students.

“When to-go places have really long lines, it is more of an inconvenience than a packed dining hall,” Vasquez said.

Not only that, but students’ meal plans include much more than to-go food and a Mediterranean dining hall with a reputation for bland food. To-go options don’t come close to the variety, nutritional value and monetary value that a dining hall provides, and students don’t pay tens of thousands in housing fees to eat at an unexciting dining hall when there are three others popping with tantalizing options.

Katherine Alvarado, a UCLA spokesperson, said Covel’s central location is one of the reasons it has extended hours, in addition to the amount of staff needed to operate it.

But students who have schedules that require them to eat late surely don’t mind traveling to a less-central dining hall if it means they can eat something worth their time and money.

Rotating which dining hall has extended hours is the least UCLA Dining can do to make good on its promise of high-quality food for its residents. Cycling between Feast at Rieber, Bruin Plate, De Neve and Covel would offer students the nutritional and monetary value they expect when they cough up money for their meal plans.

And students agree.

“Sometimes if I have late class, it wouldn’t be possible for me to eat at Bruin Plate, even though I would want to eat there, so I would say that rotation could be very good,” said Thomas Qu, a first-year chemistry student.

Similarly, Ian Price, a third-year history student, said rotating which restaurant has extended hours could serve students who don’t live near Covel or would like some variety.

It’s understandable there would be logistical concerns about increasing the number of staff to operate a dining hall for extended hours. But it’s hard to argue that a profitable department like UCLA Dining is incapable of moving staff around to meet a valid student need.

Moreover, students deserve better access to dining services. Lack of after-hours dining hall variety is just one in a list of student grievances about services they’re charged for but can’t take advantage of – a True Bruin Welcome concert with limited seats, a residential mailroom that opens only during peak class hours and a mental health facility students can barely book appointments for, to name a few.

It’s UCLA’s responsibility to ensure it is serving residents on the Hill to the best of its ability.

After all, awards and rankings are great. But they mean little when students can’t make use of them.

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Andrew Raychawdhuri | Opinion columnist
Raychawdhuri is an Opinion columnist.
Raychawdhuri is an Opinion columnist.
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