Food quality and choice, while not as glamorous as a stellar academic program or a shiny new recreation center, do contribute much to the day-to-day life of a college. In these respects, the University of Connecticut has been of the highest grade in recent history. While hopefully nobody chooses to go to the university solely because of its dining services, most can think back to when they were impressed by the eight dining halls. Unfortunately, that figure is quickly becoming more and more of a stretch in truth.
Following Buckley Dining Hall’s weekend closures last year, another eatery has fallen prey to the pressures of decreased budget and demand. This year, Northwest also shuts its doors on Friday and Saturday. Of course, nearby options like North and Towers Dining Halls are still available (as the university is quick to point out), but it is hard as a student not to feel that this is a downgrade.
Meal plans in general have always been a mixed bag. While UConn is more than generous in its unlimited swipe-ins and various other perks, many have complained in the past about the price, especially after calculating the per-meal cost. The fact that it is required for on-campus residents only further leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths. There is a reason the meal plans have to be so expensive, though, even in the face of closures on a worryingly yearly basis.
The heart of the matter is that the eight dining hall model is unsustainable. UConn is a big campus, for sure, and there is nowhere that a single uber-dining hall could be constructed to appease everyone, but there is some redundancy existing. Buckley and Whitney, the two smallest spaces by far, are close to each other. Towers, North, and Northwest are near enough that UConn even admits it as rationale for their closing. Even South and McMahon are a short jaunt from each other, although both have the demand to justify that. Of course, each fulfills its own niche, but the abundance of choice is still there.
This is a problem because, with each separate dining hall, upkeep costs are high. For each dining hall, UConn Dining Services must pay for electricity, food (especially waste), staff, cleaning, the space itself, etc. Of course, these would be higher if some were to combine, but the upkeep cost of a double dining hall would clearly be less than that of two separate ones.
This is a hard pill to swallow, though, for students and the administration alike. Students like the choice, and even if all the same options were available, congestion and other factors could make it feel like a downgrade still. The administration would prefer to avoid the hassle and keep making cuts to the existing system here and there. Despite these objections, the writing is on the wall: there will be more closures for the dining halls.