Meal plans drain Laker

(Editor’s note: because of background noise in the Laker Inn, the sound quality for one interview in this video report was substandard. To deal with that problem, we used subtitles with the interview.)

When Mercyhurst College students arrived back on campus, many discovered the Laker Inn, one of Mercyhurst’s most popular dining locations, had become a retail-only establishment.

Instead of paying out of pocket or buying dining dollars, hundreds of students with board-only meal plans flock to Egan Cafeteria as their only food destination.

The Laker and the Student Union have had considerably less student traffic this year, even appearing empty during some prime meal hours.

Senior Ian Michalski said, “I come here a couple times a week for lunch, and it seems pretty dead. There’s just not the action we used to have in years past.”

Sundeep Baggam from Parkhurst Dining Services estimated Egan receives between 2,500 and 3,000 transactions each day, while the Laker averages only 300-400.

Mercyhurst Student Government (MSG) President Dinorah Sanchez said, “It’s sad. There’s such great food, and people are impressed with Egan and impressed with the Laker. We want all students to have both options.”

Baggam, the manager at the Laker, said, “I’m trying to do the best I can to bring the board back to the Laker, but it’s up to the college to decide how and when it’s going to happen.”

Board equivalency hours started in the Laker when Sodexo was in charge of food service to allow students to eat at non-traditional times. The contract Parkhurst signed called for Egan to be open until midnight, thus eliminating the need for board equivalency at the Laker – or so the college thought.

“We have realized there’s no way for us to know how an operation is going to work and what the students are going to be requesting or thinking about until we actually get it into place,” One Card Supervisor John Patterson said.

New versions of baja chicken and sizzle salads are back on the menu in response to student comments, but any change to the board system awaits college approval and renegotiation of Parkhurst’s contract.

MSG reactivated the Food Ad Hoc Committee to help find a solution to these problems.

“Nothing is definite, but we’re thinking together and trying to figure out what it is that we can do to bring students back to the Laker,” Sanchez said.

Some students who do use the Laker prefer the shorter lines.

Linda Smith, who worked at the Laker last year, said, “It’s a more pleasant experience for the customer. We get to spend more time with customers and give them a more personable experience. It’s nothing like it was with Sub Connection last year.”

Michalski said,“In some regards it’s nice, but in other ways it would be more like a college campus, like a student union, if there were people passing through and that sense of people around.”

With the loss of the community atmosphere, club leaders and event organizers are forced to find new venues or step up publicity to draw students to activities.

Director of Service-Learning Colin Hurley blamed board changes for the 40-50 percent drop in attendance at the annual Service Fair held in the Student Union.

“One could count the number of students on one or two hands for the number eating at the Laker during our Service Fair. The only other students in the building were there to check a mailbox or for work-study,” Hurley said.

Mercyhurst’s chapter of Amnesty International moved its display for Banned Book Week to Zurn. “The Union was our best place to table last year, but nobody goes there anymore,” Amnesty International President Rachel Brown said.

“It’s going to probably take us a year to figure out what the Student Union will be,” Assistant Director for the Center for Student Engagement and Leadership Development Sarah Allen said. “Will it always be like this? I don’t know.”

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Sam Williams photo: Juniors Lauren Balint and Meredith Stalker wait to receive their meals. They are the only students in line for the Sequoia Grill.Sam Williams photo: Juniors Lauren Balint and Meredith Stalker wait to receive their meals. They are the only students in line for the Sequoia Grill.