The new school year at the University of Maine has commenced with more than just a new set of faces.
For some, it has started with a new set of dining inconveniences.
The Memorial Union Marketplace, long a favored eatery among commuter students, now closes at 5 p.m. on weekdays, four hours earlier than last year.
Many students, especially nontraditional, say this has caused a great deal of annoyance.
The Maine Campus posted messages seeking comment from students on the “Announcements & Alerts” FirstClass conference.
Nicole Golden, president of the Nontraditional Students Association at UMaine, was discouraged by the news about the Marketplace’s closing time.
“Nontraditional students make up 17 percent of the entire student body and that just includes those who are ‘non-trads’ by meeting the ‘over the age of 24’ criteria,” Golden wrote. “The vast majority of us are commuters, and the Marketplace is where we go for our lunch, dinners, drinks and snacks.”
“If you’re working full-time and then rushing from work to an early evening class, it’s nice to know you could go to the Marketplace and grab a quick bite of dinner before class,” said Robin Crocker, another nontraditional student. “I guess that’s no longer going to be the case.”
“This is a big inconvenience for the commuter students especially now that Wells is an all-you-can-eat venue,” wrote Kalie Hess, a commuter and fourth-year anthropology student. “I really wonder what was going through dining’s head when they thought that this would be a viable option for the students.”
Kathy Kittridge, director of Black Bear Dining says she understands frustration with the earlier closing time.
“That was a very tough decision,” said Kittridge of the new hours. “We wish we could keep everything open all the time.”
Kittridge said the change stemmed from several factors, many of which students helped contribute to. Kittridge cited numerous focus groups, personal accounts and interviews that helped change the meal program from the previous structure to this year’s model.
“We’ve done a lot of research over the past couple of years,” she said.
The biggest cause of the shift in hours is the new unlimited meal plans that are being offered to residents. In previous years, plans with finite amounts of meals were the main way that residents ate. Students who went through all their meals would be unable to get food at a dining hall without putting in additional money.
Now, all residents can purchase a single plan that offers unlimited eating at Hilltop, York and Wells commons. Other plans also include the option of dining funds and meals, and residents of DTAV and Edith Patch Hall can purchase plans tailored to their different lifestyles.
In addition to the meal plan changes, Wells Commons has undergone a radical shift. Previously, it served a la carte items and was closed on weekends. Now it is open every day and serves all-you-can-eat meals, similar to Hilltop and York commons.
This expansion of hours at Wells and the new plans are the primary cause of reduced hours in the Marketplace, according to Kittridge and Glenn Taylor, the director of culinary services for Black Bear Dining.
“In looking at sales figures and traffic that went through the Marketplace at night, the majority of it was resident students using their meal plans, their dining funds, and just a small percentage were commuter students, faculty staff, non-meal plan holders,” Kittridge said.
She cited the 5 p.m. cut-off as a product of data that showed non-resident traffic after that time dropped sharply.
Kittridge said lower commuter numbers and the struggle to keep everything open simply cost too much money to remain viable.
“We decided, in line with the new meal plans, let’s open Wells so the resident students with unlimited meal plans can go to Hilltop, Wells and York.”
With so many radical changes, the dining service has tried to maintain a variety of venues and price ranges to make up for the earlier closing time.
Both the Bear’s Den and Union Central have received new equipment and menus to help compensate for the early closure of the Marketplace, now touting a wider menu of prepared and grab-and-go foods.
“Between the Bear’s Den and Union Central — developing the Bear’s Den menu like we did and expanding it a little bit and making a totally different menu at Union Central — we felt that we could handle the crowd that didn’t have meal plans,” Taylor said.