Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Dining Services has decided to cancel its weekday breakfast program in off-campus dorm Mary Lyon, replacing it with a weekly Sunday breakfast. Numbers for the weekday continental breakfast have been steadily declining in the past years. Many involved in ML breakfast have cited structural changes to the school, including regular shuttle runs and the 17-meal plan, as reasons for the decline.
Running Monday thru Friday from 7:30am to 9:30am, ML weekday breakfast offered an alternative dining option for students who live far away from campus and would like to eat breakfast before class. Hilary Hamilton ’12, a Resident Assistant in ML, explained that ML breakfast was conceived as a community builder, especially since ML students are relatively isolated from campus.
The number of students eating breakfast at ML, however, has been steadily declining over the past 8 years, according to Therese Hopson, Dining Services’s Front of House Manager. Originally, ML served hot made-to-order breakfast. In the fall of 2008, with meal numbers declining to around 30 students a week, Dining Services decided to change the weekday breakfast to continental. That year also coincided with freshmen being automatically placed on the 17-meal plan instead of the 20 and the closing of ML basement.
ML breakfast meal swipes have continued to decline. Lynn Grady, Manager of Dining Services, said that now three to seven students generally show up for breakfast. In 2003, there were over 2600 meal swipes in the fall semester; this fall, there have only been 800 swipes.
Rachel Head, Assistant Dean for Residential Life, conjectured that the morning shuttle’s consistent schedule might play a role in the decline of ML breakfast. In the past, students would swipe for breakfast while waiting for the shuttle; with the shuttle running more regularly in recent years, students normally do not have as long a wait.
Head also reasoned that since 2008, freshmen have been placed on the 17-meal plan and therefore have fewer meals to swipe for each week. (The fact that students on the 20 meal plan cannot use more than one meal in a period also may play a role; students can save their breakfast meal for a double-swipe at Essie Mae’s later in the day.)
Hamilton emphasized logistical difficulties this year as another reason for its decreased popularity. According to Hamilton, there were difficulties in the beginning of the year with coordination and communication between ML Breakfast Coordinators and Dining Services; ML weekday breakfast was not implemented until several weeks into the semester. By then, early breakfast was not part of students’ routines, and she said it was difficult for students to adjust their schedules after that.
There were additional logistical difficulties in food delivery, the training of the weekday cooks, and the lack of a card swiper. Saturday ML Breakfast cook Leland Kusmer ’11 said, “Weekday breakfast has been sporadic this semester; we’ve had a number of issues, including getting consistent food delivery, getting all the cooks properly trained, and not having certain popular food selections.” The food for breakfast is normally delivered on Thursdays; there were several weeks this semester where it was not delivered at all. According to Hamilton and Kusmer, this inconsistency discouraged students from relying on weekday breakfast.
Kusmer is a member of the self-proclaimed Committee to Save Breakfast. The informal committee consists of Kumser and Joint ML Breakfast Coordinators Katherine Bertaut ’12 and Ben Schwartz ’12, who are concerned about saving ML breakfast.
Faced with these declining numbers, Dining Services scheduled a meeting before October Break with the Committee, the ML RAs, and Assistant Dean Head. “We talked over various ideas to bolster the numbers,” said Kusmer, “and we agreed to reevaluate the breakfast program.”
After the October meeting, Committee members sent out a survey to ML residents to figure out the reasons behind the declining numbers. Respondents mostly said they did not go to breakfast due to the lack of hot breakfast and other good food options.
The Committee tried to convince residents to stop by the breakfast room in the mornings by putting up flyers, verbally encouraging residents to take advantage of the service, and issuing paper bags so students could grab their breakfast and go.
While there was a slight rise in the numbers, it was not enough to justify the high scale of operation, time, and costs put into weekday breakfast. Head mentioned, “Nothing really seemed to bring up the numbers. We had students donating meals or double swiping. On a high day, we would only have five to six students who were actually using the breakfast room for its purpose.”
In a second meeting with Dining Services before Thanksgiving Break, Dining Services decided to cut the program and start a ML Sunday breakfast/brunch, due to the popularity of Saturday breakfast. Kusmer said, “Even though Dining Services has seen a slight rise in breakfast in the past few weeks, they did not feel like it was enough, given their budget constraints.”
Grady and Hopson said that they no longer see a need for weekday breakfast in ML. Grady explained, “It’s not a money-driven thing. It’s a numbers-driven process and there seemed to be no need…it was also irresponsible of us to throw out food. We knew we weren’t doing the right thing.” Dining Services would provide enough food for 15 people, and 10 meals would be left uneaten. Dining Services was also hiring two cooks for only five residents. (With the program’s stoppage, however, there will not be a net loss of jobs: the weekday cook jobs will be replaced with Sunday breakfast jobs.)
The declining numbers ultimately made the costs of staffing, wasted food, and operation unsustainable. Head elaborated, “Nobody is against offering more services, but it is not responsible to continue if the need doesn’t seem to be there. Those resources could be reallocated to a different basis where a large amount of students can enjoy it.”
ML RAs and Breakfast Coordinators are disappointed in the decision. Kusmer said, “I think the losses to the community in terms of communal space and the convenience of breakfast are very important.” For Kusmer and committee member Bertaut, who are both committed to breakfast on a daily basis, this change severely limits their morning options.
Both the RAs and committee members wished they had an extra semester to give the weekday breakfast option another try. Bertaut said, “I really wanted to have second semester to try and make it work. I think with enough time and enough attention from those of us on the committee, we could have seen numbers go back up, and I’m frustrated to not have the chance to.”
ML RA Andrew Stromme ’12 elaborated, “Next semester would have been a great time to give it a full coordinated effort from the start. For residents who picked into it or placed as a freshman, they might have been expecting weekday breakfast…we should try having ML breakfast from the beginning of the year.”
Since previous coordinators and RAs have been unable to rally breakfast numbers in the past, however, Dining Services has decided to end weekday breakfast service after this fall semester.
Despite these regrets, everyone has expressed excitement for Sunday breakfast — which will be the only Sunday food option open before 11am. Many anticipate a success with Sunday’s ML breakfast, based on Saturday breakfast’s ongoing success with both off- and on-campus students. Head said that there is an average of 90 meal swipes on Saturday, with many on-campus students visiting.
“We just to evolve with the need and as the culture changes,” Grady said. “Dining Services is student driven, not driven by us, and we really consider what the students want.”