September 22, 2003

New Year for C.U. Dining

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As returning students may have noticed, Cornell Dining has undergone a number of changes since last semester. These changes include the reduction of seven distinct meal plans down to four, the abandonment of meal equivalency and major renovations to Okenshield’s, the hilltop all-you-care-to-eat dining hall.

In an e-mail to The Sun, Colleen Wright-Riva, director of dining services, said, “Cornell Dining spent considerable time with other departments at the University, student groups and in discussions with consultants familiar with programs at other universities before it moved forward with these plans [for the meal plan].”

“Cornell Dining met with many student organizations, including the Student Assembly. We also held an open forum to alert students of the issues and hear comments,” she said.

Wright-Riva listed a number of reasons why these changes were implemented. “Student dissatisfaction about the need to buy larger plans, student dissatisfaction over ‘losing’ the entire value of the meal equivalency even when the student purchased items of lesser value, the desire to streamline meal plans and a need to develop new meal plans that would later merge with a new residential model on West Campus,” she said.

“The West Campus changes are the next phase of the campus-wide residential initiative,” Wright-Rive added.

On student response to the meal plan changes, Wright-Riva said, “The response to these new plans has been favorable. There have been just a few students that worry they will run out of Big Red Bucks, but again, these students have likely purchased smaller plans than last year and a small addition to Big Red Bucks later in the semester will still be less expensive than buying larger plans just to get the equivalency.”

Commenting on the absence of meal equivalency, Christopher J. Billman ’04, student manager at North Star, a North Campus all-you-care-to eat dining hall, said, “Getting rid of meal equivalency was a bad idea.”

“It’s one of the few things that have been a bad idea from Cornell Dining. I constantly hear people complaining about it. But what people don’t seem to realize is that Cornell Dining never operates a profit and is comparatively a really good college dining service,” said Billman.

Aaron H. Dobbins ’04 disagreed, saying, “I think it’s better without the meal equivalency. It’s more efficient. With meal equivalency it was like wasting a meal. That could translate into a lot of money if you are a huge kid.”

According to Wright-Riva, the renovation of Okenshield’s — the other major dining change — came about as “Cornell Dining has recognized the need to upgrade Okenshield’s for some time. Customer traffic at Okenshield’s has been decreasing considerably over the last several years and the new facilities on North, as well as the anticipated changes coming on West, made it clear that this renovation could not wait.”

Chef Wang’s Station, which had been a drawing attraction of Okenshield’s, was altered during the renovations. Wright-Riva said, “Chef Wang’s Station was deemed to no longer be within the NYS building code because it lacked proper ventilation.”

“Cornell Dining worked with University architects and realized that with the existing building conditions, there could only be one station under the hoods at Okenshield’s — the grill or Chef Wang’s station,” Wright-Riva said.

Wright-Riva explained, “Since students can enjoy grilled items at the Ivy Room and Chef Wang continues to be a ‘legend’ at Okenshield’s, the choice for Cornell Dining was relatively easy. Additionally, we will rotate grilled items on the specialty bar, so they are not gone forever.”

Also changed due to renovations was the deli at Okenshield’s. “The deli was popular and our team has heard from a few students that they miss it. We have heard from far more however, that they love the new look and they love Chef Wang’s Asian selections,” said Wright-Riva.

Daniel J. Sheinfeld ’04 said, “I thought Okenshield’s was fine before. It had character. I think it looks nice now, but that doesn’t really mater because the grill is gone. …The best food on campus used to be Okenshield’s. Now, I’m never eating there again,” Sheinfeld said.

Craig E. Kiczek ’04 disagreed, saying, “I liked the change. I felt like there was a wider selection and the food was definitely much better. The last time I was there before the renovations the food tasted like ass. I would definitely go again.”

Dylan R. Greif ’06 said, “I think the change made Okenshield’s better. Before I felt like I was eating at some strange old lady’s house. However, now the lines are much longer and it’s a little crowded. But that’s the price you got to pay.”

“Also, Okenshields’ Dave makes my day happier. I would use a meal after going to the Ivy Room just to see Okenshields’ Dave,” Greif added, referring to Dave Sepulveda, cashier and greeter at Okenshield’s.

Other changes in Cornell Dining this semester have been the addition of Carol’s Caf