University of Wyoming administrators said in September their long-term strategy for on-campus dining will be to move toward meal plans based on “dining dollars.”
The university might take its first steps to enact that plan in Fall 2019, but the transition will take years, UW Sean Blackburn said Thursday. To accommodate students’ desire for less block-based dining, the school will need to open many more dining options outside of the Washakie Center.
Dining options like Panda Express already have long lines, Blackburn noted; giving students more dining dollars without having enough cash-based restaurants would be likely to drive other customers — who pay with cash and credit — off campus.
“It would overwhelm these facilities,” he said.
The discussions surrounding on-campus dining have come to the forefront of UW planning this year as part of legislative work to overhaul the campus’ dormitories.
Meal plans for students who live on campus are currently overwhelming driven by admissions to the Washakie Dining Center using blocks, which gives students a certain number of “all-you-can-eat” admissions each week to the cafeteria.
“The future of Washakie is only half the size it is currently. We won’t need a very large “all-you-care-to-eat” facility,” Blackburn said.
Administrators have envisioned new dorms will have retail spaces, including restaurants, on their ground floors.
Blackburn said the shift in dining aligns with the wants of modern students, who are come less interested in block-based dining.
“They want to grab a bagel and a coffee and run to class and then maybe come back to have a full meal at lunch,” he said.
UW is in the process of opening an Einstein Bros. Bagels in the Enzi STEM Building. Blackburn hopes to store will by open by March 1 but acknowledged that’s “going to be a challenge.”
Trustees and other stakeholders have suggested the move to the new dining model should be accompanied by a move to more privately run dining, especially offering more nationally recognized brands.
Blackburn said a currently survey of students will provide more data to inform that idea.
“Our students are not as brand-conscious as other students, but that’s because they’re not as aware of them,” he said.
Blackburn said UW is also considering other food trends, like farm-to-table and “locavores.”
Regardless of the transition to block-based dining, Washakie will need to remain fully operational until all new dorms are completed, trustee John McKinley said. In a drafted construction plan presented Thursday, UW will aim to have all six new dorms constructed by the fall of 2023.
UW has three dining plans, ranging from $2,238-$2,913 per semester. All three plans each offer just $50 dining dollars.
The university is considering introducing dining plans for the Fall 2019 semester, including more flexibility in allowing blocks — which currently expire at the end of each week — to be used at any time during the semester.
The drafted plan would also introduce two small-scale dining plans for commuters, with prices ranging from $345-$555 per semester.
The plans would also increase the amount of dining dollars given to students, with plans having $75-$150 dining dollars each semester.
Blackburn said UW would also like to extend operating hours at the Wyoming Union Food Court until 9 p.m.