Six years after the University decided to add Uncommon, an extra convenience store for meal swipes instead of having an exchange with local restaurants, Yale Dining staff and students are still divided on the matter.
Meal plans at schools like Penn, Northwestern, Colgate and Washington University include “dining dollars” or “equivalency meals” to be used at local restaurants. However, at Yale there is one popular option outside of standard dining halls — the Durfee’s convenience store. Yale used to allow students to use their meal swipes to purchase food from restaurants like Yorkside Pizza and Wall Street Pizza, but Yale Dining Director of Business Administration and Finance Howard Bobb said the ability to use swipes at local restaurants was terminated due to lack of use.
But Yale Dining Executive Director Rafi Taherian said in 2009 that the exchange program with local restaurants had to be taken away to save money and jobs. He added that the loss of the program would be made up for through Uncommon — another smaller convenience store located next to Commons dining hall.
Twenty-three out of 24 students interviewed said they would be in favor of an equivalence program being reinstated. Karen Yang ’18 said chain restaurants like Panera would be a welcome alternative to Yale’s limited dining options.
“Sometimes I look at the lunch menu option, and the food isn’t totally appealing, so I’ll use my lunch swipe at Durfee’s,” she said. “But if I had an even better option like Panera or Starbucks, I would totally prefer that.”
General Manager of Northwestern Dining Wendy Jorgensen said Northwestern students are able to purchase food from Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks using equivalency meals. Furthermore, Area Marketing Coordinator for Northwestern Eddie Skidmore said equivalency meals could be used to purchase food at retail locations all around campus. But he said that adding equivalency meals to a university is difficult and complicated.
“Illinois State University is in conversation to reinstate equivalency meals, but it will take a contract negotiation to make that happen,” he said. “Lots of things have to be investigated to introduce this to a school that does not currently have it.”
Haley Mitchell-Adams ’18 said implementing equivalency meals would be well worth the effort. Compared to Durfee’s, which she described as limited and overpriced, she would much rather use a swipe at a local restaurant, she said. Such a relationship would be mutually advantageous, she said, as businesses would be promoted and students would have more dining options.
But Cara Washington ’18 said she prefers Durfee’s because when she is on the run purchasing food from a convenience store, as opposed to stopping by a pizza restaurant, is quick and not messy.
Yorkside owner George Koutroumanis said Yalies used to have money substitutes in the form of “flex dollars.”
“The way it worked was students would choose to trade in a number of meals for flex dollars,” he said. “Yale would then take that number of meals off your plan and give you money on your student ID, which we would then swipe.”
Despite the addition of Uncommon and the presence of six other alternative stores and cafes across campus, seven students interviewed said they only really consider Durfee’s as an alternative option to use their meal swipes.
Kate Flanders ’18 said she had never heard of the second convenience store, Uncommon. Washington added that she does not understand the purpose of the store, as students already in the Commons area have no reason to go to Uncommon instead of quickly stopping in the dining hall.
Skidmore said Northwestern and other schools have faced a financial dilemma similar to the one Yale faced, which is why equivalency meals are becoming less popular nationally.
“Equivalency meals aren’t that common because they just don’t give students the most bang for their buck,” he said. “We would rather help students than make Subway rich, but to provide that variety you have to pay for it.”
Commons stopped offering students dinner in 2011 and breakfast in 2014.