Whitmans’ restricts portions

Apple-pocketers and Powerade enthusiasts, beware. Dining Services staff in Whitmans’ has begun enforcing its three-sides-only policy, ensuring that students don’t pile on more than they paid for. Staff became more watchful late last week, requiring those with more than three sides to pay extra or return the food. However, with around 550 students dining at Whitmans’ for each meal, questions arise regarding the feasibility and limitations of strict enforcement.

The policy states that students are allowed three sides in addition to their entrée. Sides can be bought in any combination and include soups, mini-salads, desserts, fruits and beverages. While Dining Services managers stressed that the policy has always been in place, a lack of enforcement has created an all-you-can-eat culture among some, with students heaping on chocolate cake and oranges and then returning for more.

“Whitmans’ isn’t a dining hall – the function of Paresky is not all-you-can-eat,” said Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of Student Dining. “You only get one shot to decide your sides.” He explained that Dining Services began formally outlining its sides policy last week while training new staff. “The purpose of this was to help teach staff what a meal at Whitmans’ was,” he said. “Only after we put up sheets at the registers and more signs did we realize the extent of the confusion among students.”

Many students have taken issue with the policy, questioning why fruit and drinks count as sides. “Honestly, I don’t think a piece of fruit is equal to an entire side, especially when you can take an extra piece of fruit when you leave other dining halls,” said Will Bobseine ’10, recounting an instance where he had to return a side. “It all depends on who is working; it’s easier to take food from certain people than it is from others,” he added.

Others have resorted to sneaking food anyway, and Bobseine noted that the new enforcement might encourage stealing. “I always wear my coat when I go in so I can stuff my pockets with fruit,” said Laura Huang ’11. A student who asked to remain anonymous added that Whitmans’ design is conducive to stealing. “It’s so poorly designed, you could easily walk out with an entire meal and no one would notice.”

Staff members, however, have noticed, and acknowledge that some students take trays out without having paid at all. “There aren’t enough of us to chase after them,” said one Dining Services staff member who asked to remain anonymous. “Especially when it’s busy, it’s just not feasible. Most students are honest, though,” she added. Staff in Whitmans’ also noted that students often return to take extra sides, saying that they had forgotten to take them earlier. “When it comes down to it, we want to give the kids what they want, but also get the word out that they can’t take unlimited sides,” said another Dining Services member. “We don’t want to be the bad guys.”

According to Abayasinghe, Dining Services has not analyzed its finances in Whitmans’ and has noted the widespread side-piling through observation. Sides, particularly fruit, have been running out faster than anticipated. Two cases of oranges are expected to last a whole meal, said one Dining Services member who asked to remain anonymous. Last week, they were gone within an hour. “For every extra piece of fruit a student takes, that’s one dollar we lose,” she said. “Sometimes you see students carrying four or five pieces.”

She added that the stricter enforcement has fueled misunderstanding. “Kids are very confused – they’re used to getting three, four sides,” she said, explaining that initially, students had been allowed a drink, side salad, dessert and a fruit in addition to an entree, which would now count as four sides. “I’m as confused as they are – every time I turn around, there’s something new.”

Mike Cutler, Paresky Center manager, described the stricter enforcement as more of an adjustment than a crackdown. “Students weren’t using the program the way it was intended to be,” he said, recalling an instance where a student tried to take half a dozen cookies.

“We serve a higher end, a higher quality – everything is made to order,” said Snack Bar Manager Carol Luscier, explaining why the market place style of Whitmans’ was incomparable to dining halls. “It’s upscale, with a different presentation and style. Some of these entrees you’d expect to see in expensive restaurants,” she said.

Cutler and Luscier emphasized that the three-sides policy has always been in place, and the recent enforcement has marked an attempt to mitigate confusion and correct student behavior. “We’ve been watching for a while and have seen some red flags,” Cutler said. “It’s only a few students, but those few need to be addressed.”

According to Luscier, the response to Whitmans’ has far exceeded expectations. “We initially thought if we got 300 students per meal, we’d be in good shape,” she said. Yet 589 students swiped for dinner on Monday night, and similar numbers dine throughout the week.

Abayasinghe concluded that the solution lies in addressing the confusion through communication among both staff members and students. Any students caught stealing would be referred to the Dean’s Office, he said. “The College has an honor code – stealing would clearly violate that.”

Additional reporting by Leland Brewster, Record staff.