Baird Dining Hall renovation: Love it or loathe It? Students dish out their opinions

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As UNB Saint John students both new and returning flocked to campus in early September, they were greeted by a freshly renovated Baird Dining Hall in the Thomas J. Condon Student Center.

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With construction having begun in the summer of this year, this is the first time that students have experienced the reformed system. Student reviews of the changes are mixed. 

For better or worse?

The dining hall’s new layout adopts the UNB Fredericton campus’s methods when it comes to on-campus dining. Some of these features include moving to an open floor plan, an all-you-can-eat system as opposed to a pay-per-food item system, the requirement to pay for entry to the dining hall, and several other rules and methods designed for an efficient and sanitary mealtime system. 

However, it would seem that student opinions of this ‘new and improved’ dining hall are largely varying, even provoking some comments such as “strange” and “frustrating” from returning students.

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“My first visit to the cafeteria was overwhelming. Everything had changed.” said student Oakley Hart. 

Allergens, options, and food preparation

Some of the most plentiful criticisms about the updated dining hall have included topics of allergens, food choice variety, and food preparation. 

“There’s so much I could say!” said a first-year health student, “It’s definitely quantity over quality. There aren’t very many options for people with dietary intolerances, and you can’t even really have a goal to eat healthy. Yes, there is a salad bar, but salad every day for two meals gets pretty tiring.”

This is far from the only comment made by students regarding not only the limited selection of food prepared at the Baird Dining Hall, but about the quality of the food that is served. Two first-year students shared a similar disgust regarding a retelling of a serving of rice that was undercooked, to the extent of being “crunchy.”

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One amazed student even said, “They messed up rice! That’s as basic as it gets!”

Hart expressed their upset at the butchering of a personal comfort food. 

“The first cheeseburger I had this year was a patty that had already been cooked, thrown back on the grill for a few moments then given to me. It was dry and all around not good. The one thing I always knew I could eat was now a cruel joke of itself.”

Despite the rotating meal schedules offered by the Baird Dining Hall, students are still finding that the selection of food is very limited. A number of students who identify as picky eaters have also stepped forward, claiming that the limited selection feels unfair and encourages negative habits, such as maintaining an unbalanced diet and skipping meals.

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“They [Chartwells] are not prepared to serve large quantities of students during mealtimes.” Says Meren Keith, a second-year BA-BEd student. “And by not allowing food to be taken back to rooms, Chartwells is not supporting students with or recovering from eating disorders, as the last thing they want to do is eat in front of their peers and have their food choices judged.”

It would seem that the topic of students affected by eating disorders is another common concern from the student body. A second-year student majoring in marine biology had a similar opinion.

“For people recovering from eating disorders, such as myself, or people who are silently struggling with eating disorders, having to eat in front of people is uncomfortable and unfair.” The student said. “I know from experience that the only way I manage to eat food is in the comfort of my own room, and not in a room full of people.”

New rules and systems

Another common complaint comes from individuals who find the new rules and systems confusing or uncomfortable, along with the vigorous enforcement of said rules by staff. 

Wolfgang Düchtel/The Baron

Upon entering the dining hall, students are required to pay a fixed fee depending on the time of day, with breakfast being the cheapest meal and the price gradually climbing per mealtime. Students are also required to leave their bags in a shelving system near the entrance during their time in the dining hall. 

“It is unsafe to leave your bookbag unattended while it’s filled with expensive electronics and textbooks,” said Meren Keith, “and inconvenient to have to bring those items into the cafeteria if all you want to do is grab a bite to eat between classes.”

In years past, the dining hall had been open and accessible to all students without payment being necessary, which allowed students to utilize the space as a study location. There were also microwaves accessible for student use, and their removal has led to population issues in the Hans W. Klohn Commons, another facility on campus with accessible microwaves.

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“The lack of access that off-campus students have to the cafeteria is making a crowded and noisy study environment in the library,” Keith again spoke, “No one should have to pay to sit at a table and talk to their peers.”

The biggest reason behind the new payment rules, which then led to the issue of crowding in the Commons, is the introduction of an all-you-can-eat approach to mealtimes. After paying their fixed fee, students are able to eat as much as they want while inside the dining hall, but as a compromise, bringing food outside of the hall is no longer allowed. For some students who prefer eating in the comfort of their own spaces, this has proven challenging.

“I preferred the old way better; get what you want, when you want AND you’re able to take it to your room. I’m not even sure how to order in the new dining hall.” A third-year nursing student living in residence stated. 

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Another student living in residence, a fourth-year student named James Martin, had a similar outlook.

“As someone who prefers eating alone, I miss having to-go boxes to bring back to my room to eat. I wish there was a spot where I could recommend food I’d like to eat that week, especially when there’s something I’m craving.”

And yet another statement was received on this matter by Meren Keith.

“Raising the price of meals, lowering the options, and not allowing students to take food back to their rooms is not a form of food security.”

Revised meal plans and flex cash

New to UNB Saint John are a variety of meal memberships that provide a fixed cost for a certain number of entries into the dining hall. For example, you can purchase a meal membership for fifty meals, seventy five meals, or an infinite meal plan that lasts the entirety of the school year, allowing you to access the dining hall whenever you want, as many times of day as you want. As this year’s residence students have come to find out, students living on campus are required to have the infinite plan.

A second-year student found this unfortunate. “$5500 for a meal plan, which not to mention is mandatory for residence students, is ridiculous. The quality, nutritional value, and state of the food is not worth it.”

Along with this mandatory meal plan, students are set up with 100 Flex Dollars, another new concept to the dining system. Before entering the dining hall, students have access to a small nook of quick, take-away food that they can pay for at the counter, including drinks, candy, and prepared food items. Each item with its own fixed price that can be paid using Flex Dollars or via cash and debit.

This is assumed to be a way to help those students who are a fan of the grab-and-go style of breakfast, or for those who are snack-happy. However, evidently, this system hasn’t come without its criticisms. 

Wolfgang Düchtel/The Baron

The bright side

Although it seems that there have been many critiques of the new Baird Dining Hall and all of its systems, there have also been some compliments on behalf of both students and staff, praising the new system for its improvements. 

“I love the look of the new cafeteria. I like that I no longer have to wait in line for the food to be prepared,” said Martin. “Overall, it’s not a bad change, just a change I have to get used to.”

Wolfgang Düchtel/The Baron

A staff member of the Dining Hall was interviewed, and they shared a similar positivity towards the new system.

“It’s more food that they can get for their money. It just makes their money more worthwhile.” The staff member shared, “It’s hard for the returning students to get used to everything. It’s less of an adjustment for first-years, but once everybody gets used to it, it’ll be great. Just a few bumps in the road for now.”

 

Abigail is a first-year arts students focusing on social sciences. She wants to shoot for the stars and become the best she can be, even if she has no idea what career she wants to pursue yet! She's an avid fan of lions, seals, and dogs with long noses, and she spends a lot of time writing creatively, sketching, or chatting online