It is midnight on Friday and True Grit’s, whose doors have usually long been locked and tables empty, is bustling with students. For the first time, UMBC dining services is offering a Weekend Late Night at True Grit’s.
Late Night is a favorite with UMBC students. Monday through Thursday from 9 p.m. – 2 a.m., after a long night in the library or watching a movie in Lecture Hall One, students can enjoy a quick meal at True Grit’s. But noticeably, Late Night was not available on Friday or Saturday nights. If students wanted food after 7:30 p.m. on Friday, they had to go to the Commons or Outtakes convenience store.
Weekend Late Night will run Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. – 1 a.m, one weekend per month . The menu is exactly the same as the weekday Late Night.
The pilot program is a response to student’s requests for more weekend dining options. According to Tom DeLuca, Resident District Manager for Chartwells, the program has been in development for the past year.
“I got feedback through Residential Life … it came from a couple different directions, so we started to think ‘okay, this is something that might work,’” says DeLuca.
Dining Services also received input from the Student Dining Committee, which consists of around 25 students and several administrators. According to DeLuca, the committee meets monthly to talk about the “good, the bad, and the ugly [about on-campus dining].” The committee has representatives from the Student Government Association, the Student Event’s Board, the Resident Student Association’s Community Action Boards and Residential Life. It also has an athletic representative and students who have dietary restrictions and needs, such as vegetarian or gluten free diets.
“We try to get a good cross section of students,” says DeLuca. “From that committee we’ve done things like change meal plans [and] looked at operating hours.”
Weekend Late Night has not been available in the past partly due to budgetary concerns. “There’s a cost associated with it. It doesn’t generate any new revenue, it’s just moving the meal plans around,” said DeLuca. “You have to look at adding two nights with a full staff throughout the semester so we agreed that we would pilot four weekends this fall.”
“We don’t want to raise meal plan prices,” DeLuca emphasized. “We know what the labor costs are and then there’s the additional food cost.”
DeLuca doesn’t anticipate a reduction in the services already in place, but says that they will be able to make a more informed decision about allocating funding after the pilot program ends.
Over the four weekends, Dining Services will be tracking student feedback about the program to determine whether or not to continue it in the spring semester. “We have a feedback system called HappyOrNot,” says DeLuca. Students can hit a button on a kiosk by the exit to True Grits. The buttons range from a green smiling face to a red frowning face to indicate the students’ level of satisfaction with their dining experience.
The feedback system is not foolproof, however. “We didn’t get any data from the first one because [the kiosk] was only programmed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner [times],” DeLuca noted. “So we have to get some Late Night data for the next three weekends.”
Despite the lack of data, the student attendance spoke for itself. Staff members expected 300-400 students, but over 500 students turned up on both Friday and Saturday nights. A major goal of the program is to increase the number of students who remain on campus over the weekend in addition to increasing overall student satisfaction.
The next Weekend Late Night will take place on Homecoming weekend and the following on the first weekends in November and December.
Lilly Keplinger, a junior psychology major, SGA senator and marketing intern for Chartwells said, “It was a really successful pilot and gave students a food option they’ve really been looking for.”