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Penn Dining will now allow students to use meal swipes to purchase food in places other than traditional dining halls, including all of Houston Market's locations. 

Credit: Max Mester

From a brand new sushi bar to more locations that will accept meal swipes, Penn Dining is making some significant changes this year.

As students begin to repopulate campus and the sophomore meal plan requirement officially takes effect, several new dining locations will open and some locations will use automated kiosks and apps to streamline the ordering process, among other updates.

Here's a look at what will be different at Penn's dining locations this semester.

More options for meal swipes

Students have historically complained about the meal swipe system for various reasons, notably the meal swipe conversion rate — students are able to convert certain amounts of unused swipes to Dining Dollars, but students receive less money back than they paid per swipe for their dining plans. To combat this, Penn Dining will now allow students to use their meal swipes in places other than just traditional dining halls, including at Houston Market, according to Director of Business Services Pam Lampitt.

Swipes can now be used to purchase meals at all of Houston Market's locations: 34th Street Carvery, Houston Grill, Pi, Ivy Leaf, and La Plancha, a new location offering Mexican food. Lampitt said although these meals are offered in pre-selected bundles, minor customizations will still be allowed. 

Using swipes at Houston Market was tested at the end of last semester and will be fully implemented this fall. Previously, only Dining Dollars could be used at Houston Market locations. Students will only be able to use a swipe through the PennEats app, where they will be able to sign in with their PennKey. 

Gourmet Grocer will offer meal exchange — the use of a meal swipe for a meal not at a dining hall — at all hours, whereas this was previously only offered from 9 p.m. to midnight. One frozen entree and three sides from Gourmet Grocer will be equal to one meal swipe, and students will be able to purchase a whole cake with one swipe.

Students will now be able to use two dining swipes at Gourmet Grocer to purchase a meal kit in which they are given ingredients to make a meal for two at their own kitchen. Lampitt compared this box as similar to Blue Apron meal boxes. 

New dining locations open

McClelland Express is now known as McClelland Sushi and Market. The dining location will operate from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday. It will be closed on the weekends. 

Students will be able to use a meal swipe to get a sushi roll or sushi bowl and a beverage or a fresh salad with a side and a frozen item. 

Lampitt said that Dining Services wants to make McClelland “a destination location, a place where students really want to go.”

La Plancha, a Mexican cuisine dining location, will replace Ginger @Spruce! in Houston Market. The new location will sell bowls, burritos, and tacos and will accept meal swipes, like other locations in Houston Market.

Also debuting this semester is Cafe West, a coffee bar located in New College House West, Penn's newest dorm. Cafe West, according to Lampitt, is a traditional coffee bar that will also sell sandwiches, salads, and some hot dishes. Cafe West will accept Dining Dollars, and it will operate from morning to mid-afternoon and in the evening. 

NCHW will also feature a dining hall, but unlike the other dining halls, it will not be an all-you-can-eat location. Students will be able to use a swipe and talk to the chef and discuss what is being cooked during each meal. The dining hall will offer both vegan and meat selections, but meals will vary every day. Students can also sign up to learn from the chef in formal culinary sessions. 

Lampitt described NCHW's dining hall as a “culinary experience” and “opportunity for students to feel really connected to our staff and really connected to the food.”

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Cafe West, located in New College House West, is a traditional coffee bar that will also sell sandwiches, salads, and some hot dishes. 


Automation 

To increase efficiency in 1920 Commons and Hill House, students will be able to place their orders on automated kiosks at the Expo Station and Omelet Station in each dining hall, respectively.

This will decrease the amount of students lingering around these popular stations in the dining halls, Lampitt said, and will make it easier for the chefs to understand what students want in their meals, which has become difficult due to the use of face masks and the soft-spoken nature of some students. 

Lampitt also emphasized the importance of the PennEats mobile app. PennEats became an important tool for students living on campus last spring with a dining plan, as it allowed them to book reservations in the dining hall.

This semester, students will be able to use the app to make a reservation for a Sabbath meal or order weekend meals at Falk Dining Commons in Steinhardt Hall, to order in advance at Starbucks, Joe’s, Pret a Manger, and Accenture, and to order bundled meals at Houston Market. 

“We know students are rushed, and we want to make things more efficient,” Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger said.

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