On a recent winter morning, the Birch Dining Hall was bustling with activity. Students were filling their plates with scrambled eggs, muffins, and sausage. They were queuing up at the toaster, gulping down glasses of milk, and putting pieces of fruit in their pockets.
There was a sense of morning urgency—eat, eat, eat, then hurry off to class. For some, lunch would not come around for another five long hours.
This extended interval between meals is one thing that’s about to change. When students return from break, Birch Dining Commons will no longer be open just for mealtimes. Instead, the dining hall will be open throughout the academic day, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will have snacks available to all comers.
Kevin Martin, director of dining services, said a recent adjustment to the schedule pushed the lunch hour later, creating a problem for students whose academic day began at 8:30 a.m.
“There are students whose classes go to 1 o’clock,” said Martin. “If they have classes all morning long, they get in here at 1 pm, and they’re starving.”
An initial solution, to put out bowls of fruit in the Schoolhouse and StuBop, led to an unexpected problem, he said. Students were bringing their snacks to class, rather than eating them during their breaks.
So, earlier this year, after reviewing the practices in peer schools, Martin and the dining hall staff decided that the best solution was to open Birch Dining Commons all day.
“We’re going to try to have stuff here so if they’re walking by the dining hall, they can just pop in and grab something,” he said. “We’ll have bread out there, fixings for peanut butter and jelly, any baked goods from breakfast…we may even put out some deli stuff if they want to make a sandwich.”
The decision to keep the dining hall open has been roundly applauded by students. Senior class president Matthew Freire said he envisioned the dining hall becoming a place “somewhere between the StuBop and library” where students could have a snack and work, quietly converse, or hold club meetings.
In a proposal to the student council, co-written with junior class president Maddy Stern, Freire described the change as “a privilege, not a right” and said that students must be courteous, respectful, and responsible.
“This area has the potential to be extremely useful and an even more important part of our campus,” Freire wrote in the proposal. “In order for this transition to happen smoothly and retain the privilege of this new use of the dining hall everyone must be respectful.”
Martin said the open dining hall will be carefully structured, with certain sections off-limits until meal times. Since the amount of dishware required has also been a concern, Martin said that he’s looking into using biodegradable paper products during the snacking hours.
Another concern was that the open dining hall might take traffic from the StuBop, but Martin said the two will provide significantly different atmospheres.
“I think this would be more for anyone who wants to come down and grab a bite and do their studying,” he said. “Whereas up there, it’s more a livelier crowd.”
Martin said he’s looking forward to making the change—one among several that the dining hall is making. This year, Martin introduced such new menu items sliders, a curry stir fry, and a sundae bar with toppings.
“I’ve got a good crew here and they’re always looking to do something different,” Martin said. “It’s good to let them be creative and try new things.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 8, 2013: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the hours that the dining hall will now be open. It will be throughout the academic day, which ends at 3 p.m., not 5:15 p.m.