Fisher: A dinner dilemma

School of Fisher

There’s one lesson to be learned from the endless stream of YCC emails asking for, introducing, and promoting new programs designed to make life at Yale better: Life at Yale offers just about everything a person could want. When YCC programs serve no purpose more pressing than a bike exchange, it’s pretty clear that Yalies have little to complain about.

But there is one feature of life at Yale that’s legitimately problematic: dining hall dinner hours. Several candidates in the recent YCC elections realized the problem, and several promised in their campaign statements to do something about it. This is surely an issue that will require more than a dedicated YCC. But anyone willing to get the ball rolling — and soon — will be fighting for a good cause.

In a Yale Daily News survey published March 23, students overwhelmingly expressed their dissatisfaction with the dining hall schedule. Seventy-seven percent of students said dinner service ends too early. At last, there is a published record of complaint against what may very well be the single most maddening aspect of campus life. It’s now time for action.

This may sound like a petty issue. Yale feeds us decent, nutritious food; it should matter little if we can’t eat it exactly when we choose. But the timing of dinner is so egregious as to pose a threat to our health — and our liberty.

Dinner in the college dining halls runs from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Those are early hours for anyone, but for the average Yale student, who probably doesn’t go to sleep until 1:00 a.m. or later, it’s an even more difficult schedule. It’s akin to living in two different time zones at the same time: Eastern for sleeping, Mountain for eating.

Inevitably, by the time 10:00 p.m., or 11:00 p.m., or midnight rolls around, someone who ate dinner at 6:00 p.m. is going to be hungry. Then comes the run to G-Heav, or Durfee’s, or Yorkside, or the buttery. A healthy fourth meal? Forget about it.

There are two ways Yale Dining could circumvent this problem. It could open dining halls for a fourth meal some time around 10:00 p.m. Then hungry students would at least be able to eat something vaguely nutritious rather than whatever’s cheapest and most convenient.

The far more sane solution would be to simply shift dinner somewhere between one and three hours later. Yes, the dining hall workers’ union would be an obstacle. But this would be a change worth the extra expense. It would provide instant improvements in students’ health, happiness and productivity. All too often, an afternoon dedicated to writing a paper is interrupted by a suitemate’s reminder to eat dinner before it gets too late.

Most American colleges don’t force such uncomfortable schedules on their students. Many colleges’ dining halls close for dinner at 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m.; if Yale followed such a schedule, even this small difference would help enormously to stabilize student’s eating habits and allow students with extracurricular events to avoid missing dinner.

This is also a question of dignity. Very small children often eat dinner at 5:00 p.m.; I’ve never met an adult who does. In the world of dinner parties and meetings, among the world leaders whose ranks Yale students are expected to join, dinner does not happen at 5:00 p.m. Yalies abroad in Europe would find that even 8:00 p.m. is early for dinner. If we’re expected to be cultured, our dining halls should teach us to keep modern, international eating hours.

This is only a secondary concern, but the convenience and health issues are hard to deny. There is no reason, besides standing up for the status quo and avoiding any potential frays with a workers’ union, to keep these insane hours. YCC members should keep to their promises and attack this issue with gusto, and the Yale administration should be on board from start to finish. It’s high time we eat like adults, for the sake of our health, productivity and sanity.

Julia Fisher is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.


  • bobbyangler

    While I completely agree with the suggestion to extend dinner hours, one of the paragraphs in this essay literally blew my mind.

    “This is also a question of dignity. Very small children often eat dinner at 5:00 p.m.; I’ve never met an adult who does. In the world of dinner parties and meetings, among the world leaders whose ranks Yale students are expected to join, dinner does not happen at 5:00 p.m. Yalies abroad in Europe would find that even 8:00 p.m. is early for dinner. If we’re expected to be cultured, our dining halls should teach us to keep modern, international eating hours.”

    I can’t believe someone actually wrote that. Dignity, cultured, modern. . . and world leaders really just takes the cake. As future members of the global elite, we Yalies are apparently too good to eat our dinner at 5:00 p.m. We’re supposed to be practicing the important life-skill of schmoozing at cocktail parties during that hour. Goodness gracious, way to confirm every single stereotype about spoiled, pretentious, Ivy League elitism.

  • jnewsham

    Go to a buttery. Dining hall employees have families, too. They are also unionized and would have a hard (read: expensive) time swallowing working into the night.

  • Jaymin

    “But the timing of dinner is so egregious as to pose a threat to our health — and our liberty.”

    Exaggerate much?

  • morse_14

    Maybe the solution is to renegotiate the union contract with new hours? It seems to me like the unionized workers wouldn’t have much support, apart from some of the Yale students on the left-most end of the spectrum. If worse came to worse, we could just get new dining hall workers who would be willing to work later hours–in this economy, I doubt that would be very difficult.

  • tedmosby

    I realize that dining hall workers prefer to get home to their families. However, there are plenty of people who work in the late evening for various service-sector jobs. It’s not as if nobody in the history of mankind has ever worked past 7 pm.

    Yale should negotiate with the workers about what compensation they’d need for the change in hours.

  • alsoanon


    “if worse came to worst, we could just fire these totally irrational dining hall workers who are demanding, like, normal working hours! there are so many poor people out there just clamoring for us to hang them precious jobs in our ivy league castle! we could just get new ones! no one would support the old ones except for crazy commie far-left students who think that, like, dining hall workers deserve to be heard and have rights!”

  • morse_14


    All I’m saying is that we wouldn’t have a problem finding people that would be OK with working later hours. You’re putting words in my mouth, and your ad hominem is unproductive and adds nothing to the discussion.

    Dining hall workers have rights–but so do I, and, frankly, the dinner hours we have now suck. Why should dining hall workers be prioritized over me? If I were running a business, I would find workers who were willing to work when I wanted them to.

    As for normal working hours, find me a restaurant that has Yale’s hours, and I’ll show you what is probably a failing restaurant. Normal working hours in the food service industry just aren’t 9-5, and I’m not sure why people are under the impression that they are.

  • alsoanon


    okay, i admit that that may have been counterproductive of me. i got a little angry. basically, your comment that “we could just get new dining hall workers” read as extremely dehumanizing to me. also, personally, i know and very much like the dining hall workers in my college and i certainly don’t want to see them replaced just because that would be what’s easiest for students who want to eat an hour later. i’d like later dining hours myself, actually — but i think that that can be achieved without ignoring the rights and needs of our workers.

    as for your assertion that “dining hall workers have rights–but so do i, and frankly, the dinner hours we have now suck,” um, wow. that’s an interesting equivalency. so your right to eat when you want supersedes workers’ rights to collectively bargain? because that’s not that much of a leap from what you’re saying there. also, most “normal restaurants” don’t open at 9 in the morning, or they have multiple shifts, or the workers aren’t unionized. just because something DOES happen doesn’t mean it SHOULD. would you like to work a 12 hour day, five days a week? probably not. good thing your employer isn’t forcing you by threatening to hire someone more desperate who will work for cheaper.

    and lastly, “if i were running a business, i would find workers who were willing to work when i wanted them to.” you better hope your workers never unionize.

  • morse_14

    I guess it comes down to a difference in expectations that you and I have–I’m being forced to pay a hell of a lot of money for board, and I don’t think that eating at a reasonable hour is an unreasonable thing to ask. For me, this is an equivalency: I like the dining hall workers, but they’re not there primarily to be my friends, they’re there to run the dining halls. However Yale achieves that is frankly unimportant to me: as long as the dining hall is run well and is open when it should be, I’m fine with it, whether or not it includes collective bargaining.

    Many of them are open–look at the many diners that exist in suburban CT and in the Tri-State area at large. Some of my favorite restaurants are open 24 hours! It’s not uncommon at all for a restaurant to be open from 9 AM to 11 PM, or for even longer. I don’t think that unions or collective bargaining are incompatible with this idea of longer workdays at all–the trick is to negotiate an appropriate contract; I think that you’d find a lot of people who think that the current contract benefits the workers more than the students.

    My stance is this: if we can be as nice as possible to the dining hall staff, that’s great. But as soon as it interferes with a reasonable meal schedule or the general quality of the food, then it becomes a problem.

  • alsoanon

    First of all, 5-7 may not be ideal but it’s certainly not totally “unreasonable.” People have been doing just fine so far, no one is starving to death, and yes I’m sure most of us would like it to change but let’s not exaggerate how important this is. Moving on: your comment that “however Yale achieve that is frankly unimportant to me…whether or not it includes collective bargaining” is sort of scary. Would you like Yale to hire child laborers? Would you like us to outsource our food production, if that were possible, to a sweatshop in the Phillipines? Yeah, I’m exaggerating, but I guess we just come from totally different places if you think that your happiness excuses how that happiness was achieved, and I think that sometimes I might have to make sacrifices in my life because, you know, I also care about the happiness of other people. Yes, I sound like an a**hole. But frankly, so do you.

    Your complaints about being forced to pay oh-so-much for board are also not really working for me, mostly because just by attending Yale, no matter the cost (and if you were, say, the child of a dining hall worker, you wouldn’t be paying anything) you are automatically incredibly privileged and guaranteed a future that does not have to include working as a union member or in food services unless you would like it to. I guess it just simply does not bother me that “the current contract benefits the workers more than the students,” not as a student and not as the child of, you know, one of those mysterious (non-Yale Dining) “workers.”

  • alsoanon

    I forgot to add: I have no problem with the idea that Yale and the dining hall workers might want to sit down at the bargaining table and work something out that both parties are happy with. Fine. I just disagree with your assertion that ultimately Yale should change these hours regardless of what they have to do to the workers to achieve that.

  • ashe12

    @ alsoanon

    We’re part of a capitalist system which, to any freshman taking basic microeconomics, implies competition in business and society. It’s not about the workers; it’s about the services they provide, and if I wanted to put the workers and their families in front of my own needs, I would have stayed in the European communist country in which I was born.

  • 13

    Wow… I’m going to have to start this quite firmly – I do not give a s–t about the dining hall workers.
    Let’s get a few things straight, they are paid. The dining hall workers are paid *very* well for a job that requires them to sit at a desk and swipe cards all day, slash move food from one place to another within a kitchen, slash washing dishes. And speaking of “all day”, there is no way they work from 9am till after 7 sometime. I don’t know this as a fact, but I would be *very* surprised if Yale had them on longer than eight hour days.
    Let me be straight, I like some (not all) of the dining hall workers, and they can often be very pleasant to talk to. But they are not so pleasant that I would put their hours above my desire for longer to eat in the evenings. Bear in mind, they are also paid for this pleasantry (not that all of them display it.)

  • morse_14

    I may not agree with 13 in that I do care about the dining hall workers–the difference is that I’m not willing to make any unreasonable sacrifices for their quality of life. It’s not like they’re volunteers–they’re (incredibly well) compensated workers who are doing a job!

  • trum13

    I don’t really think that the fact that we pay a huge amount of money for board should be disregarded. Tuition and board are budgeted separately in your bill, and are separate expenses. Of course we’re all privileged to come here, but please, I pay $12.00 for every single meal, so I wish I weren’t relegated to the salad/sandwich bar all too often – and I’m not picky. And as other commenters have said, the dining hall workers are workers that are verrrrry well compensated. It’s wonderful that they’ve come together to form a union so that their rights are enforced, but they are still in the business of providing a service that is meant to cater to the student body’s needs.
    And frankly, we’ve had a lot of new dining hall workers come in this year, and our older, more experienced workers (that I care about a great deal) have commented that they’re straight up lazy. They get a really good deal out of this contract.