Students may soon be able to use more than Flex Point and WM Express accounts at Alan B. Miller Hall’s newly-opened Boehly Cafe. A new Student Assembly initiative aims to open the establishment for students with meal plans.
SA Under-Secretary for Dining Services Salil Singhal ’12, who serves as the student liaison for dining services on campus, said the dining hall attracted student attention after the building’s construction.
“From late last year, many students were curious as to if Miller Hall’s dining options would be on the meal plan, and many were furious when they found out that it, in fact, would not,” Singhal said. “After speaking to a few friends early on in the school year, I asked [Director of Dining Services] Matt Moss if this was a possibility.”
After initially being told “no,” the SA executive continued to push the possibility until Moss said that he would consider the issue if there was distinct student support.
Matthew Thames ’10 started a Facebook group called “Meals at Miller,” which now has more than 300 members, suggesting a student demand for a meal plan option at the new facility.
Moss said there were a variety of factors to take into consideration when deciding if Miller Hall’s cafe could be a meal option for students.
“Seating capacity and waste capacity of the current space, cannibalization of other locations such as the
Dodge Room, which could result in closure if sales were lost … service speed as the operation is currently designed, and the ability for the location to generate meal plans on its own merit alone, are all factors,” Moss said.
Moss said dining services has been tracking and will continue to track student attendance in the cafe to see if there is enough demand to make it an actual meal option.
“We have been monitoring the business at Miller during the semester to track attendance and sales, and we are evaluating the business currently to see what other services may be offered for next semester,” he said.
In response to problems concerning contracts with current dining services, Thames said that meals could be
packaged but still on the meal plan.
“If they didn’t want to offer the freshly prepared food as a meal, they could do it like the Dodge Room and
have an option to pick up a pre-made sandwich, chips, drink and fruit for a meal,” Thames said.
Singhal said they’re taking this idea into consideration in their proposal.
“Due to the upscale dining concept present in Miller Hall, having the current options on the meal plan is not feasible. Instead, I have been pushing for an option similar to the Dodge Room, in which ready-made sandwiches and other products will be available for student consumption on the meal plan,” Singhal said.
“According to [Moss], this is feasible and relatively easy to execute. Furthermore, the Dodge Room is a very successful concept that has become a viable alternative to the dining halls for the lunch period.”
Enabling students to use a meal option would be convenient for students coming from classes in the Mason School of Business, Thames said.
“It’s very convenient for the business major[s] and others in the area, but I didn’t choose my meal plan anticipating that I would pay for lunch with Flex everyday,” he said. “Miller is a solid 10 minutes from the [Commons], [Sadler Center] or Marketplace, so the Dodge Room is the next closest place where you can use a meal option at all. With business school scheduling and the distance of Miller from other dining options, business students are losing functionality of the meal plans which they purchase.”
Dining services staff said they would like to make a decision sometime soon.
“Any changes we hope to make will be announced in the next couple of weeks, as meal plan sign-ups open[ed] up this weekend,” Moss said.