Amid the changes and revamps Boston College Dining Services has unrolled to start the fall semester, none has garnered as much attention as Late Night dining’s move from the first floor of Corcoran Commons to Addie’s Loft on the second floor.
This shift in location, coupled with menu changes, left many BC students confused and upset.
“I think we didn’t do a very good job of messaging what was happening, how it was happening, and why it was happening. I think there were a lot of rumors flying on the first weekend,” said Megan O’Neill, associate director of restaurant operations.
BC Dining employs student marketing interns, and the interns carried out a survey over Facebook in the student class pages. O’Neill and Beth Emery, director of BC Dining, agreed these responses contained good insights.
“We did get a few hundred responses, and some of them were really useful. So we do really appreciate student feedback,” O’Neill said.
The changes in Late Night dining actually stemmed from two issues that BC dining sought to address. The first was getting staff to work Late Night at Corcoran Commons, one of the busiest periods for dining services every day.
“We have some students that are not the most well behaved, we have a lot of students that are well behaved, but we have some that aren’t,” O’Neill said. “And so it’s gotten very hard, and a lot BC students do not want to work Late Night, at Corcoran Commons specifically, because of the safety, they feel they are not safe in the environment.”
O’Neill said this made staffing Late Night difficult. Reflecting safety concerns, as well the hope of decreasing wait time, dining services changed the order in which students pay for their food. At Late Night, students now pay and then hand their receipt to a server. In other dining locations, students get their food and then pay.
Under the old system, students would queue to get into Late Night, stand in line for food, and then stand in another line at the cashier. “So we changed to this process, we’re trying to manage the line right through the cash register. It has shown that there is less standing in line,” O’Neill said.
Another factor that heavily contributed to the changes to Late Night was testimonials and data from student focus groups and feedback, conducted by Student Affairs.
“One of the things that came back was that they wanted more of a coffee house feel and vibe in locations around campus,” O’Neill said. “They asked a lot about opening Hillside for Late Night, and things of that nature, but still keeping Corcoran Commons. One of the common things that came across was having specialty drinks at Late Night, or during those hours.”
On the operations side, O’Neill explained that it did not make much sense to open up another location for Late Night on Lower Campus, since there is not enough demand to fill two venues. Additionally, another location would result in more staffing pressures for dining services.
Dining Services looked at putting specialty coffee drinks on the first floor of Corcoran Commons, but determined there was no space.
These factors eventually pointed Dining Services to Addie’s Loft on the second floor, which actually was the site of Late Night for 12 years before it was moved to the first floor.
“If we move it back up there, we can help control the line a little bit more, so it’s safer for our students and for our staff,” she said.
“It helps us with the specialty drinks that are already up there, and if we played with the menu, we could make sort of a pizza-coffee house vibe, there’s soft-seating up there, there’s great places for students to sit and do projects together, and so we thought all those melded together and answered the needs we heard from Student Affairs, from our students, and from our staff,” she said. “And so that’s how we made our decision.”
Another common question many athletes and students with evening classes asked in focus groups concerned the possibility of having dinner run later. By moving Late Night to Addie’s, Dining is able to keep dinner open until 8:30. The time between 8 and 8 p.m. has proved increasingly popular with students, according to O’Neill.
“The last few nights, we got absolutely slammed from 8 to 8:30, so I think students are now hearing about that, learning about that, and I think they’re now excited about that part of it,” she said.
Emery, director of BC dining, said that last year, two groups on the dining advisory board, quality of student life and student athletes, wanted dinner to stay open an extra half hour.
Emery said Dining Services has to manage tradeoffs, especially regarding when dining locations open and close.
“But there was this group though that eats at 4:30 [at Lower] because they went to class or wanted an early dinner,” she said. “But last night there was 100 people in line at 8 … so we are meeting a need. We’ve got to be smart. It’s tricky.”
In addressing some of the student dissatisfaction concerning the rollout of the new changes, O’Neill again pointed to deficiencies in communication.
“I think the people that got sad in the beginning, in their mind the tradition was changing … that we’ve completely changed it,” she said. “And I think the connotation of healthy annoyed a lot of people.”
O’Neill saw that students didn’t want Dining Services telling them how to eat. But, Dining Services’ mission is to provide options, not to tell people what to consume, according to O’Neill. For her, it’s about moderation.
“So we’re happy to give those different options to students, I think what we’ve seen in Late Night this week is that people are no starting to get used to it, and I think it seems to be flowing better,” she said. “I know students on Saturday night were thrilled with their mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers, and they were happy to hear that it will be there on the weekends.”
O’Neill mentioned the rumors that circulated at the start of the semester that Dining Services was getting rid of Late Night.
“I don’t know where that started. That would never be the plan, we’re here for the students,” she said.
“We make a lot of our decisions around student feedback,” O’Neill said. “And it’s interesting, we’ve had this discussion internally. We’ve had a lot of people unhappy about Late Night, vocal ones, but we’ve also had a lot of people that have asked for these things, they asked for the extended dining hours, they asked us to mix up our menu, they asked Student Affairs for the specialty coffee drinks, so it’s interesting for us to try and balance all that out.”
The changes have taken some getting used to, and O’Neill said the lines have been flowing better recently. On the first weekend, however, there was some chanting by students at the staff, which O’Neill called unfair, since the staff members are BC students, too.
The other locations for Late Night, Stuart and McElroy, are operating largely the same as last year. Stuart is unchanged, and McElroy has had no changes to its menu, but it now closes at 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, as opposed to 2 a.m.
“We’d get a small push at 1:30 to a quarter to 2, but not enough to keep the staff there for the two hours in between without a lot to do,” O’Neill said. “Part of our charge to the University is to be a breakeven department, so we can’t cost them money. For us to have a location with paying staff, food ready, and not have people come in, doesn’t make any sense.”
O’Neill and Emery stressed that BC Dining is always open to feedback.
“We love to meet with students, we do it all the time,” O’Neill said. “A lot of our decisions as we move forward are based upon that student feedback. A lot of students aren’t used to that, but every time we meet with students they go ‘Wow, you did listen to us.’”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor