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Duke Dining: an explanation

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There are few things on campus more contentious than dining. With the excitement of the opening of West Union also came some disappointment that hours and locations of food trucks and merchants-on-points had changed. Students are clearly confused about the motive of these changes, and we hope to provide some clarification on behalf of the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee and Duke Student Government.

1. Why have the food trucks moved to Kilgo and Swift?

The food trucks were moved out of necessity, not to inconvenience students. Last spring, the Fire Marshall informed Duke that parking in the Chapel Circle was a safety hazard and they would be fined for any vehicles parked there. Thus, the University no longer allows any parking in the circle. Duke paid multiple fines in the spring for allowing the food trucks to park there, in addition to being mandated to remove the truck parked in Wannamaker Fire lane. Over the summer Duke Dining was forced to look for new spots that: (a) could accommodate the size of food trucks; (b) could have wifi access for vendors to charge on food points; and (c) were not safety hazards.

Kilgo Lot was the closest and most central spot for food trucks on West. Swift was chosen as the second spot given the 150 students that have just been moved to campus housing on 301 Swift Ave as well as the many that live in the 300 Swift Apartments. If students have suggestions for other spots on campus, they can recommend them here. Duke Dining and PTS will vet these locations, collect input from food trucks, and determine if any of these suggestions present better locations.

This change was not fully communicated to students before the school year began and we understand the confusion. We will do our best to learn from this situation and make sure everyone knows what changes are happening—and why they are happening—well in advance. With food trucks settling into their new locations, business has started to pick up and students are finding their old favorites again.

2. Why do the MOPs have reduced hours?

Duke Dining made a decision many years ago, before West Union was closed, to expand MOP hours during renovations and reduce them when the building reopened. This decision was not made to make the University more money. Having nearly sixty vendors would mean that each vendor gets a very small number of sales; few vendors could actually be profitable and the West Union vendors may not be able to serve Duke. While we always strive to have as many options as possible, we must also work within the limits of the market to ensure that the system is sustainable.

We recognize the huge benefits of delivery to students who live far from dining halls, those trying to order food in bulk, and for those who can’t leave their room due to any physical or mental reason. We are discussing a few solutions such as expanded delivery to Central or East campus or possible special provisions for the weekends. Furthermore, as the West Union vendors begin to get settled in their new locations, we are hoping to explore delivery services with some of them.

3. Lunch on West is too expensive—especially as a first-year.

We recognize that lunch prices on campus have always been difficult and have been discussing solutions for a couple of years. Penn Pavilion was able to offer lower lunch prices (especially at the sandwich stations) because it was a Duke operated vendor and Duke could subsidize these items to sell at no profit, or even at a loss. All of the current options on West Campus are operated by private vendors, so Duke Dining has limited ability to change prices. Additionally, all on-campus vendors are required to meet sustainability standards and pay full-time employees a Duke living wage and provide insurance. Although this causes the vendors to have higher labor and operating costs that at times are passed along to the students, we believe this is an appropriate decision in order to look after our employees and the environment. We have been working with the West Union vendors to offer options at each in the $4-$7 range and are continuing to add new options, such as the lunch menu at Devil's Krafthouse. We hope to roll out even more choices over the next few weeks.

First years have the added complication of at times choosing to use their equivalency rather than eating at Marketplace. In recognition of the steady inflation of prices, the equivalency is now indexed to rise each year to maintain the buying power rather than remain constant or be raised sporadically.

4. Why am I charged for water in the West Union sometimes?

One of the goals of the new West Union was to offer more affordable meals. While food prices are harder to change, Duke Dining aimed to dramatically reduce drink prices. Now, flavored waters and iced teas can be purchased for only 25 cents. Additionally, we will soon be adding Italian syrups at the beverage stations to allow students to mix their own Italian sodas using the syrup and soda water.

This decision was made after years of consulting with student focus groups that expressed a desire to move away from traditional high-fructose corn syrup sodas to more affordable and healthier options. The unfortunate side effect is that vendors are forced to charge for water because we have no way of controlling what drink a student actually fills. We are working with vendors on a solution like adding smaller disposable cups (such as those found in Café Edens) and in the meantime, we encourage everyone to use their own reusable water bottles.

5. Can we get food back in Trent Hall?

Unfortunately we are not able to put a new vendor in Trent because the location has been declared unsuitable for a kitchen. The renovations needed to bring that location up to code are prohibitively expensive. In the meantime, we are looking at the possibility of having a food truck serve the area at lunch and adding vending machines with sandwiches and other items until a more permanent solution can be worked out.

We recognize that the opening of West Union has created many changes to the landscape of campus dining. We at Duke Dining, the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Council, and Duke Student Government are committed to providing the best possible student dining experience. We are constantly working to resolve student concerns, and we are always open to suggestions and feedback of any kind (you can submit feedback here). While our campus dining may be ranked first in the nation, we recognize that we have plenty of room to improve.

Brian Taylor is the Chair of the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee (DUSDAC). 

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