Following a successful first two weeks, the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life will continue its late night dining pilot program until spring break.
The pilot program, launched in collaboration with the Yale College Council, allows students to use meal swipes, EliBucks and credit cards to purchase dinner from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday nights, an hour and a half past the closing time of most Yale dining halls. Due to large student turnout — two to five times more dining hall guests at the Center than before the pilot began, according to Slifka’s executive director Uri Cohen — the pilot program will continue beyond its initial two-week trial period until early March. After that, “preparations for the Passover holiday will become more intense and affect our ability to continue extending the hours,” Cohen said.
“The venture is the first of its kind for Slifka, and we look forward to seeing what happens,” Cohen wrote in an email to the News. “We thank everyone for joining in this with us and continue to welcome the whole Yale community to Slifka at all times, whether for meals or other times. We look forward to staying in touch with updates as things develop.”
Cohen noted that the Center “anticipated increased turnout but did not know to what degree.” In the program’s first week, students used 1,470 meal swipes at Slifka’s dining hall, according to Yale College Council President Saloni Rao ’20. Last Monday through Thursday saw a total of 934 meal swipes, with 209 of the swipes occurring after 7:30 p.m.
Due to the volume of demand, Cohen said that Slifka’s dining hall had to make immediate adjustments in the wake of crowds and long lines. However, he noted that the dining hall is 25 years old and has a small kitchen, so there is only so much that Slifka can do to accommodate larger numbers. The Center will undergo a renovation this summer, which will introduce a “state of the art dining hall that is going to be even more comfortable and welcoming to all Yale students and able to produce larger quantities of delicious food much faster,” he said.
“We were able to do much better last week and will continue to improve,” Cohen said. “Students were great — even when they waited in line, they were patient and understanding. Many students routinely thank our kitchen staff for the new program. As with all new ventures (especially those in older facilities), this is a work in progress, and we hope that everyone will bear with us as we adapt to this new reality.”
Rao said she was grateful for Slifka’s fast turnaround in implementing the program and continues to be grateful toward Slifka on behalf of the YCC and the student body. She added that the initial conversations with Slifka leadership about the new hours were relatively easy compared to the “brick walls” that the YCC has hit in past discussions with Yale administrators.
Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, who has long wanted to see extended dining hours on campus, said he is “deeply grateful” to Slifka and the YCC for organizing the program and to the Yale community for “showing that there is real demand for late night dining.” He added that he is happy to see the pilot extend until spring break so that the program can gauge “sustained interest” in late night dining rather than just “response to a novel option.”
In past years, administrators sought to institute extended dining hall hours in the residential colleges to engourage on-campus living. However, operational costs and potential resistance from Local 35, the Yale dining hall workers’ union, have presented challenges in tackling the issue. Slifka’s dining hall operates independently from Yale Dining and retains its own staff.
In interviews with the News, students who visited Slifka during the late dining hours expressed excitement about the program, while others noted that they were bothered by overcrowding.
“It fills a void or a need that was desperately wanted by a lot of Yale’s population,” said Joseph Young-Perez ’20, who had dined at Slifka only once before the program began but has attended late night dining three times in the last two weeks. “Late night eating is something very integral to college culture.”
Young-Perez added that he has found the new option to be especially helpful when he misses Yale Dining dinner hours for meetings because he is not in a position to afford buying meals off-campus after the dining halls have closed for the night.
Miriam Ross ’21, who ate regularly at Slifka before the introduction of the pilot program, said that she thinks the logistics of the program could improve, as the dining staff was overwhelmed and ran out of food some days in the program’s first week. Despite that, she said she likes that the new option “makes people’s lives easier” and brings new faces into the building.
Still, Emma Rutan ’21 — who has been eating at Slifka since fall 2017 — told the News that she feels overwhelmed by the uptick in popularity and misses the calm dinnertime atmosphere that she previously found at the center.
“I cannot speak to what it feels like for Slifka to be bustling as a Jewish student in the space, but as someone who feels welcomed there and someone who has felt at ease there in previous semesters, I’m a little sad to see it popularized,” Rutan said. “I am all for ‘spreading the wealth’ and having more people learn about Slifka’s wonderful energy and food, but a balance between exposure and maintaining the calm, collected environment would be ideal.”
On the other hand, Simon Mendelsohn ’20, who eats most of his meals at Slifka, noted that he is happy that dinner no longer feels like a “ghost town.” Mendelsohn added that he dislikes waiting in line for his food but likes that he can see people from the wider Yale community learn about Jewish culture by coming to Slifka for meals.
Moving forward, Slifka will take into account student feedback on the pilot program and make adjustments to menu items or logistics as fast as it can, Cohen said, adding that implementations of some suggestions may need to wait until after the renovation.
“The Slifka Center is thrilled to welcome so many people to our building and our community,” Cohen said. “Diversity is a great strength, and Slifka is a place in which Yale’s diversity is front and center. We are so proud! Of course, there are always those who miss the quieter dinner periods, but we are optimistic that our facility will be able to continue to provide a more intimate dining experience — especially after the renovation.”
The Slifka Center first opened in 1995.
Asha Prihar | firstname.lastname@example.org