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Budget Cuts and New Policies: How Changes to the Cafeteria Will Affect You

As returning students to Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus know all too well, every year brings new changes to how YU operates. This year is no different, especially within Dining Services, the cafeteria, and the meal options on campus, as the department seeks to revamp its offerings and update its services to best serve the students given the University’s financial situation.

One major change within the Furman Dining Hall is the two different areas of cash registers: one pair to service customers on the “outside,” students purchasing hot meals, sushi, and other meal options, while another pair of cash registers services the “inside” – the Caf Store, which features the international food bar, the salad bar, and more. By splitting the registers, the hope is to limit congestion of students, especially during the high-traffic hours surrounding lunch and dinner.

Within the inner Caf Store itself, students will now notice a turnstile, ensuring that the browsing and shopping experience is a one-way venture. One of the most serious problems faced in past years was that students would enter the Caf Store, select a snack or beverage, and exit without paying. Directing students towards the registers, instead of allowing for early exits, will help ensure that these kinds of activities will cease. A similar installation is planned for the Beren Campus cafeteria.

The area many students will remember as the Breakfast Café, located across the hall from the Furman Dining Hall, has been converted into a Vending Lounge, in order to cut down on labor costs and superfluous product expenses.  The area will now feature 24-hour-a-day vending machines, offering beverages, coffee, and other specialty items located in a food carousel that will be rotated depending on the time of day. While the hope is to enable all vending machines, both in the new Lounge and all across campus, to process Caf Cards, delays with specific vendors like Coca-Cola, which only just processed YU’s requests filed in May, explains Joe Cook, Director of Finance for Administrative Services, may stretch past the holiday break.

The Shabbat meal plan has also changed drastically. According to Wilf Campus Director of Student Life Hezzy Jesin, “We were assigned to bring down the Shabbat budget to a certain price point,” which ultimately factored into deciding between various meal packages. The Office of Student Life is a division of Student Affairs, a completely separate entity from Administrative Services, which is comprised of Dining Services, Security, Facilities, Production Services, and Operations. Student Life asked Dining Services for various levels of meals and menus, which were calculated at varying levels of quantity and quality, and a menu was agreed upon between the two departments. A y-stud sent out at the beginning of the semester by Dr. Chaim Nissel, University Dean of Students, spelled out that “although the actual YU cost for each student's Shabbat meals (and oneg/tish, kiddush and snacks) is approximately $75, the university will continue to absorb the majority of that cost.” Though Dining Services contends the prices offered were closer to $65, in any event, students will now pay either $25 or $35 for a meal ticket for Shabbat, depending on whether they sign up before or after the Wednesday at 1:30pm, the early-bird deadline.

Though the y-stud promised “an unparalleled level of programming to the Shabbat experience, within a financially responsible budget,” the Office of Student Life received inquiries from student government, resident advisors, and others after the first two Shabbatot on campus featured less-than-optimal menus. Director of Dining Services Bruce Jacobs confirms that, after discussing these issues with Student Life, “the next couple of weeks, [as many students noticed this past week], Shabbat menus will be back to the way they were last year, including gefilte fish, cholent, and more.” A second y-stud from Dr. Nissel confirmed this progress and assured students that the administration was “aware of the issues surrounding meals that were served on campus this past Shabbat…and that these issues have already been addressed.” Still, as the year continues and YU looks to promote “future vibrant and meaningful Shabbat experiences,” more work clarifying the interaction between Dining Services and Student Life will certainly be necessary.

In addition to raising prices on Shabbat tickets and many foods – one YC junior declared that “the astronomical rise in prices for food at all Caf venues left myself and others upset and bewildered” – there is also now a $125 per-semester charge for students living off-campus. Since a portion of cash sales was already coming in from non-resident students, Mr. Cook explains, the fee was levied to “bring some additional funding to Food Services and also enhance the feeling of community on the Wilf Campus by bringing non-residents to campus.” This balance, unlike for those who live in University Housing, makes no distinction between YU-affiliated restaurants and the actual cafeteria options in YU buildings. As always, both off-campus and on-campus students can refill their Caf Cards using the PHIL machine located on the first floor of Belfer Hall or in the Office of Student Finance.

Though ideas for a Food Court, bringing in outside vendors into the cafeteria, have fizzled out due to a lack of foot traffic, YU’s policy of allowing so-called “Omni Dollars” to be spent at local eateries has both improved the YU-restaurants’ relationship and even kept some in business. With plans in place to expand the off-premises amounts from $500 a year to $600, Mr. Jacobs also mentioned that, for the Beren Campus, “while the owner of Tiberias has decided to leave our plan, we are currently looking into adding both Bravo and Pitopia to our program.”

Considering another year of providing food for hundreds of YU students, Mr. Cook is optimistic and hopeful. “While the goal of any university food services operations is to break even,” YU administrators are hoping that this year’s meal options and changes will enhance the campus environment and dining culture.  For that, only time – and the stomachs and Caf Card balances of YU students – will tell.