Late meals and weekend hours return

ELIZABETH KELSEY, News Editor

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Freshman accounting major Thomas Digmann sat in Rialto at 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, enjoying his pizza and brownie.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s nice to just have the option to come here later. It was a pretty narrow window otherwise.”

Beginning Monday, Oct. 14, Rialto is once again offering late breakfast and lunch hours, after eliminating late breakfast, lunch and dinner at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester. Digmann and several of his fellow students were taking advantage of the newly returned late lunch.

“It works better with class schedules, so then you can come whenever,” said Kennedy Sclemme, a freshman undecided major.

Eating late lunch with Schlemme was her friend Mei Felton, also a freshman undecided major. Both students, who live in Bender Hall, said they appreciated the more flexible options provided by late meals at Rialto.

“We used to not be able to eat lunch at the regular time,” said Felton. “Now we can come after.”

In addition to the re-opening of Rialto for late breakfast and lunch, UNI Dining Services revealed on Monday that, beginning in January, both Piazza and Rialto will be open all weekend. Since the start of the fall 2019 semester, Piazza has been closed on Saturdays, while Rialto has been closed on Sundays.

“That will be very nice as well,” said Digmann, a resident of Campbell Hall. “I go to church [on Sundays], and it’s just down the street here, and having to literally go the opposite direction to get breakfast was a little annoying,”

The current changes are, essentially, a return to the hours offered by UNI Dining last year. In January, once both dining centers open on the weekends, dining hours will be largely identical to those of the 2018-2019 school year, with the exception that late dinner will not be offered at Rialto.

Annie Karr, DOR Assistant Director of Marketing and Conference Services, said that her department had received student feedback indicating “disappointment” regarding the more limited hours, both in terms of anecdotal reports and social media interaction.

“When you take away something that somebody is used to, it’s change, and kind of adapting to that change can be difficult sometimes,” she said.

One of the most prevalent reasons for student disappointment was a concern about being forced to walk across campus for meals in cold weather, according to Karr.

“A lot of the dissatisfaction that [we] would see on social media was students that were unhappy with having to walk farther to get their meals in weather that was not so friendly,” she said.

Both Karr and Janet Despard, Director of Dining Services, cited last winter’s polar vortex, stating that the cold was “fresh in people’s minds” when the reduced hours were announced last spring. Karr also mentioned the closure of Rialto for two weeks in the fall of 2018 after the erroneous activation of the dining center’s sprinkler system, stating that that closure likely also had an impact on how students viewed this fall’s reduced dining hours.

“Students experienced having Rialto closed for a short period of time last year,” Karr said.

The re-opening of Rialto for late breakfast and lunch doesn’t only benefit students who have to work around class schedules to grab a bite to eat— extended hours will also give student employees the opportunity to pick up additional shifts. Despard said that the reduced hours had led to some requests for more hours, although not overwhelmingly so.

“There are times that we have a glut of hours available, and others [when] hours are in demand,” she said. “Weekend hours seemed to be in demand, certainly more than weekday hours.”

Employees will have to wait until January to get those additional weekend hours, however. Although the re-appearance of late breakfast and lunch at Rialto took effect on Monday, Rialto will continue to be closed on Sundays, and Piazza on Saturdays, through the end of the fall 2019 semester.

“It’ll be quite a bit [of work] to get the weekends open for January,” Despard said, “and I don’t think we wanted to over-promise and under-deliver.”

Dining Services is waiting until second semester to re-open both dining centers on the weekends in order to allot the necessary time—a minimum of six weeks, according to Despard— to hire the needed professional staff members. Although the reduced dining operations at the beginning of the semester had allowed Dining Services to operate with fewer professional staff, Despard emphasized that this had not led to any elimination of active positions.

“There were positions that were not filled, what we would call “left open due to attrition,” she said. “A position was vacated because someone resigned to take another position somewhere else or a transfer, but no one was let go.”

Now, Despard said, Dining Services will need to hire about four professional staff members, split between Rialto and Piazza, as well as approximately 50 additional student employees.

Staffing concerns were also behind the decision to open Rialto for late breakfast and late lunch but not late dinner, according to Despard and Karr.

“To add back in the late night service requires adding more staff than just adding the late breakfast and late lunch,” Despard said. “Because those people are already there, we just keep the door open and add some additional student labor to do that. With opening at 7:15 a.m., there’s still two shifts, but when we’re open for late night, it adds a third shift.”

At this time, there are no plans to re-open Rialto for late dinner, but for next year, said Despard, operations at all UNI Dining facilities are currently being evaluated. The current expansion of dining hours also comes on the cusp of re-contracting for students to live on campus for the 2020-2021 school year, and Despard said that the DOR wanted to be responsive to student feedback as students are making decisions about where to live.

“We’re hoping that this change will encourage more students to live on campus,” she said, noting that students who live on campus for their first two years persist and graduate at higher rates than those who don’t. “And as we were hearing some more feedback on the changes from this year, we realized that [expanding dining hours] might be something that we would want to do.”

Karr also noted that DOR will soon release additional announcements in preparation for re-contracting. Enhancements to meal plans and menu options for the 2020-2021 school year are in the works, in addition to new single-room options and financial award package updates.

For now, DOR continues to welcome student feedback and encourages students to make the most of all dining options on campus, even those which might not be right next door.

“It’s been interesting to hear some of the comments—I didn’t know this about Rialto, or I’ve never been to Piazza,” Despard  said, “They’re neither negative nor positive, but just interesting to hear from students who got to go out and try something different. Granted, it wasn’t their choice, but it’s kind of nice to see something different on campus.”

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