The Collegian
Thursday, September 23, 2021

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Some students felt greater impact on dining dollar spending due to COVID-19 pandemic

The sign outside of the Heilman Dining Center.
The sign outside of the Heilman Dining Center.

As the spring 2021 semester has come to a close, some students at the University of Richmond said they ran out of dining dollars earlier than usual and the COVID-19 pandemic may be to blame.

“Freshman year I had plenty of dining dollars when the semester ended,” sophomore Hayley Simms said. “I think I ended my first semester with somewhere around an extra $150 left to spend which carried over to the next semester. I ran out somewhere around November last semester, and this semester I’ve been out for like two weeks now.”

Simms mentioned the convenience of the new GrubHub ordering system for on-campus restaurants as a contributing factor to her increased spending. 

“Being able to order Organic Krush and pick it up on the way back from class definitely put a dent in my dining dollars,” Simms said. “Especially if the dining hall isn’t serving something I want, it’s almost too easy to just order ahead and get that instead.”

Terry Baker, executive director of dining services, said the number of students on meal plans has slightly decreased this past year due to the option of remote learning. 

Baker said the use of GrubHub could have played a role in the dining dollar spending on campus.

“It’s hard to say for sure, but perhaps being able to order on GrubHub so conveniently led to people using that service more often earlier in the semester,” Baker said.

Sophomore Kyle O’Connell says the limited eating options at the Heilman Dining Center have impacted the spending of his dining dollars.

“Last year anytime you would walk into the dining hall you had like seven different options to choose from for every meal,” O’Connell said. “Now there’s nowhere near as many options, and they repeat a lot. Because of that, I feel like I’ve eaten at Tyler’s or the Cellar multiple times per week for the last two semesters. A lot of people I’ve talked to have said the same thing.”

O’Connell added that COVID-19 physical distancing rules played a big role in students' spending at on-campus restaurants. Most tables inside the dining hall were limited to two people per table, with few options for three or more.

“One reason is that you can’t really eat with a bunch of your friends inside the dining hall,” O’Connell said. “Because of that I take most of my meals back to my room, and so do a lot of my friends. I would assume freshmen especially would rather just grab a quick bite from restaurants which are closer to them than walk across campus to D-hall just to walk all the way back across to eat.”

Baker acknowledged that Dining Services instituted changes in order to adapt to COVID-19 guidelines.

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“COVID has influenced dining as well as the whole university,” Baker said. “This has been true for all  college and university dining programs across the country. With Covid protocols in the current phases there is no self-serve; all staff wear masks and follow strict health screening protocols. Dining had to follow certain queuing guidelines and thus our method of service had to change.”

Simms said that additional stress due to the pandemic added to her dining dollar spending, especially at restaurants such 8:15.

“With how stressful classes and stuff have been this year I get coffee or breakfast at 8:15 almost every day,” Simms said.

O’Connell says one of the biggest sources to his dining dollar spending has been the newest UR dining facility, Organic Krush.

“[Organic Krush] attached to the gym, so it’s super convenient for right after [working out],” O’Connell said. “It’s also a little bit more expensive than most of the other spots on campus, so I’ve sunk a ton of money at Organic Krush this semester.”

Simms said that restrictions on leaving campus were another reason students ran out of dining dollars quicker than usual.

“Since the school started cracking down with COVID rules it has made it harder to go to grocery stores or CVS,” Simms said. “So with nowhere else to go, a lot of people have been going to ETC for groceries and laundry detergent and medicines when they would go other places instead.”

Freshman Billy Apostolou, who works at the Cellar, said he had only 13 cents left in dining dollars over a month before the end of the semester. He added that students across campus seemed to run out of dining dollars by monitoring Cellar orders.

“In my time at the Cellar, I have noticed that the amount of orders have gone down, but the average size of the orders have gone up,” Apostolou said. “I attribute this change to people running out of dining dollars and asking friends to order for them.”

All three students said that people in their respective classes had complained about their lack of dining dollars.

“People I know definitely complain about their lack of dining dollars,” Apostolou said. “It is really difficult to only eat the not-so-great dining hall food and not be able to get better food in between.”

During finals week, Simms said her lack of available dining dollars added to her already stressful week.

“It’d be nice to be able to grab coffee or a Yerba while studying in the library,” Simms said. “But for now I have to make do with what dining dollars I have left.”

Baker said she was hopeful that Dining Services could return to normal operations next semester, but in the meantime Dining Services would continue to listen to student concerns.

“We have revised our menu multiple times this year and listen to our focus groups and input all the while following  strict covid guidelines,” Baker said. “We are anxiously looking forward to relaxed COVID protocols so we can operate as before.”

Contact writer Ben de Lemos at ben.delemos@richmond.edu.

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