Dining makes advantageous changes

By Maddie Steen

NIU Dining Services cut out guest passes and reduced Flex Dollars, but students need to take a look at the bigger picture to understand how these changes make sense in the long run.

Guest passes no longer being offered to students means that friends are restricted from the dining halls unless they pay the $5-$9 all you-can-eatfee, while family members must get passes approved by Dining Services before the day of the visit.

Family guest passes are unlimited and can be acquired by filling out the family pass form, found on the Campus Dining Services website, then dropping it off for approval at the main dining office in Neptune Central room 216. Getting a family guest pass is a process and Dining Services should attempt to create an online version that they can still keep a watch over.

There are no guest passes that cover friends that don’t attend NIU or those who don’t have a meal plan of their own. While students who are familiar with past dining plans might be annoyed by the changes, it makes sense and is for the better.

“We heard from many students that our guests weren’t really a part of what we expect the guests to be,” said Daniel Koenen, executive director for Campus Dining Services. “Students that didn’t have a meal plan would hang outside of the dining halls and ask you to swipe them in. We heard that a lot.”

There is truth to Koenen’s statement, as my freshman year I was scanned in as a guest multiple times by other people when I had lost my OneCard. While it is easy and convenient to use guest passes in that way, that is not their intended purpose. The money is designated for actual guests. When students use these guest passes, the money comes out of Dining Services’ pocket.

On top of that, NIU was offering 10 guest passes per semester last year, which exceeds industry standards, according to Koenen. The standard is two, and many schools don’t offer any guest passes, like Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, according to both schools’ websites.

Flex Dollars are also declining from $75 per year to $10. Flex Dollars were added onto a student’s meal plan without them being charged for that money. With recent budget cuts, it makes sense for the university to not gift usmoney every year.

“We [added] more to the meal plan without keeping it funded through the fees,” said Koenen. “We felt that reducing the amount and not increasing the rates as much was a better solution.”

Although guest passes and Flex Dollars were reduced, Campus Dining Services is improving their game in a lot of other areas.

Though Neptune renovations were disappointing overall, the dining hall has seen major improvements and has more still to come. New soda machines, hardwood flooring, a pizza oven, an ice cream topping area, expanded salad bar, new countertops, an allergy area and a new food bar have been added, which is a huge improvement. Over winter break the plan is to expand the hardwood flooring even more, along with the addition of booths around the edges of the room, according to Brian Schneider, director of residential dining.

Aside from Neptune updates, the Stevenson dining hall is only open for dinner, but students with unlimited meal plans can go to the Dog Pound Deli between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m. to get a combination of four parts to replace their meal without being charged extra.

It’s also a main priority to Dining Services that healthier food options be brought in. The fan favorites, french fries and chicken tenders, will continue to be served, but the desire is to expand healthier options more than just the salad bar, according to Schneider.

While the reduction of guest passes is a major deal to many, students are getting a lot in exchange for them. If friends come to visit, it’s convenient to grab a bite to eat in the dining hall, but now students can explore other options near campus.