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Dormitories Discuss In-House Dining Plans

By Waseem S. Daher

MacGregor House and McCormick Hall are discussing reopening in-house dining halls that were closed ten years ago because MIT’s dining contractor could not make money off of them.

The idea is receiving serious consideration by the dormitories and MIT administrators led by Larry G. Benedict, the dean for student life.

“We’re exploring what it would take from an engineering standpoint,” said Richard D. Berlin III, the director of campus dining.

McCormick and MacGregor dining would likely be patterned after existing models in Simmons, Baker, and Next House, where students make a mandatory down payment of $200 at the beginning of the year and are reimbursed during the year with a 50 percent discount on meals, Berlin said.

East Campus is unlikely to have a dining hall in the near future because it does not have the appropriate facilities, Berlin said.

Currently, the main dining hall for East Campus is Walker Dining, which will be relocated to the Stata Center when it opens. Benedict has predicted a March or April 2004 opening.

Dorms consider dining possibility

“We’ve been looking into reopening the McCormick dining hall for about four or five years,” said Professor Charles Stewart III, the McCormick housemaster.

“The McCormick dining hall was a great place to go to ten years ago, and we’d like to bring that back,” Stewart said.

Last spring, McCormick’s dining committee investigated the issue by administering a survey to McCormick residents “to try to ascertain what people’s dining habits were [and] what kind of options they were interested in,” he said.

“We’ve gotten some good feedback,” Stewart said.

McCormick currently offers an optional all-you-can-eat buffet-style dinner on Wednesdays to its residents for $6.50 per meal.

While MacGregor is also investigating the possibility of reopening its dining facility, this would not replace its store, Campus Convenience.

“[The store] has a different role than a dining hall ... it fills an important niche,” Berlin said. He said the distinction is that students often stop by the store for a small snack such as a candy bar or a soda, especially late at night.

Students have mixed reactions

Residents have different views about the possibility of having a meal plan.

Yee K. Wong ’07, a McCormick resident, said that she would definitely participate in a new McCormick dining program.

However, while residential dining halls are convenient for some students, others already have an alternative. “I cook my own dinner,” said MacGregor resident Cynthia D. Walker ’07. “It’s cheaper, and it’s better for me.”

She said that she would probably continue to cook for herself even if the dining hall were opened at MacGregor.

The fact that some students do not prefer to eat at their residence dining halls suggests that a mandatory down payment, such as the $200 Residential Dining Discount Program at Baker, Next, and Simmons, is necessary to keep dining halls afloat.

“I think [the payment system] is working to some extent,” Berlin said. “Participation is better with this implementation.”

He said that Simmons, with its mandatory $200 payment for residents, made more profits than Baker and Next because the mandatory pre-payments coupled with 50 percent discounts acted as an incentive for students to eat in the dining hall.

At Baker and Next House, the payment is only mandatory for freshmen.

Berlin said that he hoped that the rates could also be adjusted over time, so that discounts earned back would be approximately equal to the original down payment.

No construction timeline exists

Currently, there is no estimate for when McCormick and MacGregor dining facilities would be operational. Once the logistics of the dining halls are worked out, and if they are indeed possible, the facilities need to be brought up-to-date.

“That’s one of the things that needs to be thought about, because we haven’t even gotten to the point of coming up with an actual physical plan to redo [McCormick’s] dining hall,” Stewart said. “My own desire is to have something available next fall, but we’ll have to see if that’s possible.”

East Campus still lacks dining

Despite the possible growth of West Campus dining, East Campus is not likely to see any new dining halls in the near future, because it does not have the facilities to support a residential dining program. Walker Dining in the past served dinner, but was closed because it only received about 60 people a night and was not generating enough revenue, Berlin said.

“There is recognition on our part that East Campus needs some things. We plan to ... determine how [Pritchett Grill] should change to support the East Campus community,” Berlin said.

The lack of adequate dining facilities is something that some students at East Campus have complained about.

“It’s really irritating because there’s no dining in East Campus,” said Robert E. Langford ’07, an East Campus resident. “The Pritchett Grill is not so great. It’s edible, but it’s greasy.”