This fall, changes to Hillel’s payment policy have resulted in backlash from many diners. Despite ongoing negotiations between Hillel and Business Services, no revisions to the policy have been announced.
Hoping to bolster profits, the dining hall switched from a meal swipe payment system to an a la carte system, similar to that of Houston Market. Attendance has dropped since the change and students argue that the Hillel community has been harmed.
“The Hillel building was not as profitable as they would’ve liked it to be last year, so they wanted to explore ways to make it a more sustainable model,” College senior and outgoing Hillel President Josh Cooper said. “A semester in now, they’re reflecting on changes … we’ve seen a pretty sharp reduction in [attendance] numbers.”
Hillel’s Falk Dining Commons has historically been noted for its strong sense of community. Since the change in payment methods, students eat there less frequently. Students argue that this has harmed community spirit. Cooper noted that, “Students who keep kosher were certainly frustrated by the lower numbers of students [eating at Hillel].”
College and Wharton senior Yair Schiff, who dines at Hillel often, said that the community is frustrated.
“It hasn’t affected me too much, I still eat here a lot … but it’s definitely affected the community. We’ve seen a drop-off in the numbers,” he said.
The switch caused problems for freshmen who keep kosher. Freshmen must have a dining plan, which includes both Dining Dollars and meal swipes. Since kosher-keeping students eat the majority of their meals at Hillel, which now only accepts Dining Dollars, the meal swipes included in their dining plan may go unused.
One Nursing freshman, who keeps kosher and wished to remain anonymous, described having to switch plans. “Switching to all Dining Dollars was the problem because [Penn Dining] had to make sure I would be eating [only] at Hillel. There were a few other kids who had a similar issue, and they all were approved after this long process,” she said. Her revised dining plan only includes Dining Dollars.
“It was probably a two-week process between applying for the new plan and being granted it,” she added. Despite receiving a more amenable plan, the Nursing freshman feels the smaller population of diners.
“I do wish it were an all -you-can-eat system,” she said, “Because I think it would attract more of the unaffiliated Jews and non-Jews … it’d be just like any other place. It’s pretty barren now, just the same group who comes every day.
To address these problems, Hillel leadership has been in talks with Business Services since early November.
“The goal that both students and Business Services have is to make a kosher dining hall that’s attractive to students and financially sustainable. Change is always bumpy,” Cooper said.
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