Dear Duke Dining,
In August of this past year, The Daily Meal ranked you as the best college dining program in the nation. How could I forget? You have banners hanging up everywhere boasting the honor. I have to agree, you are pretty great. Not every school offers rooftop dining, a five-star hotel restaurant, food trucks and campus delivery on their meal plan in addition to over 30 on-campus dining options. You also recently opened the West Union, home to thirteen new eateries. Yet complaints about you are actually not uncommon to hear around campus. Why? Because some students feel like recent changes call your motives into question and, in some sense, limit dining options.
One of the most unique things about eating at Duke is the beloved food truck program. Every weekday night, food trucks that serve fare ranging from Korean food to barbecue used to park at the chapel circle—one of the most central locations on campus. However, now, you have forced them to park at one of two locations: the Kilgo parking lot, which is tucked away behind dorms and—even worse—construction, and Swift Avenue, which is not even on any of the three main campuses.
At the beginning of the school year, many students asked "When are the food trucks going to start coming?", because not many knew about the location change. Not only are the new locations inconvenient (Swift Avenue is a twenty-something minute walk from our main campus, West Campus), but the food truck hours have also been pushed back. Whereas they used to come to campus before 7 pm, now, food trucks only come to campus at 8 pm, which is considered by many to be quite late for dinner. As a result, people are much less likely to venture in search of the food trucks that aren’t conveniently located and only come at absurd times for eating dinner.
Business has been so bad for many of the food trucks, that some of them decided to cease their partnerships with Duke. Even beloved truck Parlez-Vous Crêpes stopped coming to campus because of the changes. In a piece published by The Chronicle, our student newspaper, food truck owners even said that they had been misinformed and misled about the amount of business they would receive at the new locations.
Okay, we should of course be counting ourselves lucky that we even have the options of eating at food trucks with our meal plan. But, the recent frustrations from both the students and the food trucks themselves should be screaming at you that something needs to change.
Besides the drastic changes to the food trucks, many complaints have been focused on the Merchants-on-Points (MOP) program, which allows students to pay for delivery from local restaurants using the meal plan. I used to be able to order Chinese food or Jimmy John’s or Papa John’s at most times of the day. Now, I can only do that after 8 pm. There are only so many things to eat on campus at 7 pm, so what happens when I really don’t want to eat any of the options, or when I’m really craving some wonton soup? I have to wait an hour, at which point many MOP vendors are overwhelmed by the influx of orders from more-than-peckish college students.
This issue is of most concern for students who live on Central Campus, which is our campus solely for apartment-style housing. With only one eatery on Central Campus, dining can get pretty old pretty fast. MOP used to be incredibly popular for dinner, because students could get food delivered to their apartments directly, and would not have to travel all the way to the main campus. But the delayed service has caused Central Campus residents to feel neglected by you. Not to mention the fact that the only other eatery even close to Central Campus in the past, Grace’s Cafe, was unceremoniously shut down at the end of last year.
There's one big reason for all of these changes: the West Union. I have to admit, the West Union is quite wonderful. When my parents came to visit me on campus, they couldn't help but praise the variety of vendors (things like Southern food to made-to-order pizza and even, yes, crêpes) and the quality of the food. In the Daily Meal rankings, the West Union was even described as "the most cutting-edge service that has ever been attempted in a university dining environment," but it's worth mentioning that you described it as such yourself. And therein lies the problem.
Alright, I get it. You want to boost the West Union's popularity, make it the center for student life on campus and champion it as the best thing that has ever happened in college dining. But I don't think that necessitates banishing food trucks from West Campus and delaying deliveries from outside vendors. We just wish that you thought about us a little more, and the business owners that run the food trucks and MOP, too.
The West Union is new and great. Students will go there regardless of the other available options. You really, really don't have to force it on us. Having the food trucks and the MOP back to what they were likely wouldn't harm the West Union's business—it would only benefit students by providing more flexible eating options. We appreciate and love the West Union. Trust us, we really do. But we loved the food trucks and MOP too.
I know I probably sound like a spoiled child, and I really, truly am grateful and thankful for the fantastic food that you provide us. Still, though, we students feel a bit betrayed and slightly neglected. But I guess it's moot, because hey, you're ranked number one?