At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, returning Haverford students were dismayed to find that Dining Services had drastically reduced the amount of meal swipes students could use at the Coop and Library Café on the traditional meal plan, decreasing from 20 every week to 50 for the entire semester.
Incensed at the limits placed on their meal plans without explanation, students began circulating a change.org petition demanding that the plan revert to the swipe limit of the prior year. This petition garnered nearly 500 signatures, with many students expressing their displeasure with the abrupt change in the comments section. Particularly displeased were those who relied heavily on these locations for their convenience. “I eat many of my meals at the library or COOP both because of the food/drink options and because of the hours. The ability to go to the COOP or library cafe [sic]…was incredibly helpful for me last year due to my class schedule” commented one student on the petition.
As there was insufficient communication regarding the change in plans, the displeased reaction of the student body is understandable. However, the alterations to the plan were not made for no reason. These changes were merely an attempt to adjust Haverford Dining Services to better suit a post-COVID world.
Prior to the pandemic, dining plans at Haverford looked very different. At the time, the Dining Center was the only location on campus that accepted meal swipes, while customers of the Coop and Library Cafe could only use standard forms of payment.
Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why the original iteration of the Black Squirrel meal plan proved rather unpopular. It did not have the unlimited meal swipes of the traditional plan and had half the dining dollars; all it offered was a limited number of Coop vouchers, intended to be used as a replacement for meals missed at the Dining Center.
Upon the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, students were sent home for virtual learning. However, with students set to come back to in-person schooling for the Fall 2020 semester, Dining Services was faced with a unique challenge.
According to General Manager of Dining Services Thomas Mitchell, the safety precautions implemented to combat the spread of COVID slowed food service in the Dining Center to a crawl. The time it took for one person, on average, to get food and sit down in the Dining Center jumped from 5 minutes to 35 minutes, a rate that is unsustainable for an establishment that serves up to 900 people per lunch period.
In an effort to relieve the congestion at the Dining Center, Dining Services began allowing meal swipes at the Coop and Library Café for the Fall 2020 semester. This made these locations far more accessible to the students, thus delivering much-needed relief to the overburdened Dining Center. This decision also brought with it the consequence of students becoming accustomed to virtually unlimited access to both these places, which was reflected in the uptick of activity they saw in this time period. Mitchell explained that this policy change caused a surge in the Library Café’s popularity, with daily traffic increasing more than threefold, jumping from 80 people a day to 300.
In Spring 2022, as COVID finally began to wane and restrictions were lifted nationwide, Dining Services scrambled to reconfigure their plans to best suit the new normal of a post-COVID world.
Over the pandemic, granting unlimited meal-swipe access at the Coop and Library Café was costing the college. “We were grossly over budget, almost half a million dollars over budget,” Mitchell explained. Thus, Dining Services chose to cut expenses by reverting to a dining plan more closely resembling that of the pre-COVID era.
However, they wanted to preserve the ability to use meal swipes at the Coop and Library Café, and decided to allot 50 swipes per semester for the traditional plan. For those who still wished to eat frequently at the Coop and Library Café, a revised version of the Black Squirrel plan was brought back as an alternative, offering 20 swipes a week between the three locations.
The oldest students currently attending Haverford—save for a handful of super-seniors—matriculated in the Fall of 2020, in the midst of the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, very few still in attendance at Haverford would have experienced pre-pandemic dining plans, due to the fact that many of the new alterations that were made were done in an effort to adapt to the unprecedented situation in which they found themselves. For the returning students who had enjoyed full meal swipe access for their entire time at Haverford, the restriction of meal swipes was confusing and upsetting.
Considering the lack of information, the reaction of the Haverford student body was not unfair. “The fact that I had to hear it from the barista and not the administration is very upsetting,” lamented one student on the petition. It is understandable why the changes were upsetting to those who had never known anything prior to the COVID-era dining plans. “I think our problem is we didn’t communicate that properly,” says Mitchell, “We get so hung up on doing us that we forget that we need to explain ourselves to people, and in the right way.”