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Make Merchants-on-Points Great Again

performance review

This year, Duke University was named the best college for food in America by The Daily Meal. It marks Duke’s highest ranking by the website in my four years here, and the truth is, dining has generally gotten better each year. But, some of dining options highlighted in the ranking are misleading or wrong.

The Daily Meal writes, “Don’t feel like leaving your bed all day? Don’t you worry, because there are eateries on Duke’s campus that will deliver meals right to your dorm.” The story goes on to say that there are “17 local restaurants that deliver to anywhere on campus, and seven food trucks.” When the rankings were released just before classes started in August, surely The Daily Meal, like students, thought this would be the case.

In reality, there are fewer options for Merchants-on-Points, the delivery option that allows students to pay with food points, and for food trucks. Far more inconveniencing though, is that the hours of the Merchants-on-Points program have been significantly shortened. While restaurants in the program previously delivered food to students from as early as 7 a.m. until as late as 3 a.m., they now cannot begin deliveries until after 8 p.m. This even includes Dunkin Donuts, which probably shouldn’t even be open that late. The administration put in place this time restriction to protect the business of West Union eateries, but the policy is unnecessary and merely inconveniences students.

On campus dining options are, for the most part, more convenient and generally better than the Merchants-on-Points options. The administration should be proud of the West Union and realize there is no reason its eateries should fear the competition of Merchants-on-Points. Moreover, students on East and Central Campuses face these restrictions without the benefit of new nearby campus dining options.

If students on West Campus wants Enzo’s, they can go to Il Forno in the West Union, which is run by Enzo’s, and get the same food quicker and fresher. If a student on West Campus wants Indian food, they can go to Tandor in West Union which is designed by the people from Sitar. If a student on West Campus wants sushi or Chinese food, they can go to Ginger + Soy or Gyotaku in West Union, both of which are operated by the same restaurateur who owns Maru and Sushinara.

But if a student on East or Central Campus wants these quality, diverse food options, they have to spend as much as half an hour traveling to and from West Union. The only other option is to pay cash for delivery from off campus eateries, but this isn’t possible for many students who can’t afford to pay out of pocket.

If the university needs proof that the West Union can stand on its own without these protectionist policies, they need look no further than the food truck program on campus. After being some of the most popular dining options on campus the last few years, the end of the food truck program now seems inevitable and soon.

The food trucks are facing a significant drop off in business compared to past years, and some have even stopped coming to Duke. This decline in business is partially due to the food trucks’ relocation, but one of the new locations is behind Kilgo, which is as accessible as West Union is. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t enough business to sustain food trucks on campus, especially considering the vital role they played during the construction of West Union.

But let their failure serve as a sign of the success of West Union and other permanent on-campus dining options. There is no economic reason to restrict the hours of Merchants-on-Points. The shortened hours only serve to further limit the already few dining options for students on East and Central Campuses. The university should provide more options to these students, and if not in the form of permanent campus eateries, it should do so through an all-day Merchants-on-Points program as it has in the past.

Justin Koritzinsky is a Trinity senior. His column, "performance review," runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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