Dining halls are a staple of the Penn freshman experience. But as students move beyond their days in the Quadrangle, local restaurants and grocery stores tend to replace trips to 1920 Commons as a go-to source of food.
But some older students choose to remain on meal plans — and Dining Services employs various tactics to keep them happy.
“We are always trying to tweak the amount of retail that we have because we know upper class students want more retail and less swipes,” University spokesperson Barbara Lea-Kruger said.
For example, Gourmet Grocer has recently expanded to offer produce by the pound, as well as hot and cold meals.
Director of Business and Hospitality Services Pam Lampitt also cited the 5 percent discount Penn students receive when using their Dining Dollars at retail locations on campus — for example, 100 “real” dollars buys 105 Dining Dollars for use in such locations. Lampitt says that this system adds value to the Dining Dollar and benefits students who choose to stay on meal plans throughout their years at Penn.
”Satisfaction will breed better retention,” Lampitt said, noting that Penn Dining frequently asks itself, “How are students using their meal plans?”
A large factor for many Penn students who stay on a meal plan is the convenience of dining halls and retail locations. Many of these students are athletes, who tend to crave hearty, ready-to-eat meals.
“We have worked very closely with athletics and they really strongly encourage them to be on a meal plan,” Lampitt said.
College junior Kyle Heubner is a member of the Penn Running Club and sometimes eats with fellow club members after a run. He echoed the meal plan’s benefits for athletes.
“If I go on a 12-mile run the last thing I want to do is spend 30 minutes cooking a meal,” Heubner said. “[Eating together] is a good bonding experience.”
Heubner is on the Away From Kitchen meal plan, which allots for 250 meal swipes and 100 Dining Dollars per semester. He eats three full meals a day at dining halls and says he schedules his classes around his meal plan.
“I’m not the best cook and [the dining hall] gives me something that I know is edible and I can kind of continue on with my day from there.”
But Heuber’s appreciation for the dining halls goes beyond the food itself.
“One of the reasons I am on the meal plan is because some of the Bon Appétit workers are really nice, especially Ms. Anita.”
But jocks aren’t the only upperclassmen eating at the dining halls. Lampitt noted some students notice the benefits of meal plans when they no longer have one. This results in many students returning to a plan as juniors after going without one their sophomore year.
“We are trying many different ways not only in quality of food, variety of food, meal plan options, retail options, all those kinds of things to [make it] advantageous for students wanting to stay on a meal plan.”
Penn Dining also undertakes efforts to make dining halls reliable places where students feel comfortable and supported by employees. As evidence, Lampitt pointed to the March 14 snow day, when various area restaurants and food trucks were closed but Penn Dining remained open.
“We were here to be supportive to the student population,” Lampitt said. “That is reflective of the commitment that Penn Dining has [to] students.”