Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Students reflect on meal exchange and dining dollar options in Norris University Center

The+Associated+Student+Government+Sustainability+Committee+has+been+working+this+academic+year+to+increase+the+number+of+vegan+options+in+Norris+restaurants.
File illustration by Angeli Mittal
The Associated Student Government Sustainability Committee has been working this academic year to increase the number of vegan options in Norris restaurants.

Walking into the Norris University Center basement, most students have a drink in hand or food on their table. This is true for students like Medill freshman Mia Rooney, who said she often frequents the restaurants at Norris.

“I really only ever go to Norris to get something to eat or drink, so the variety of restaurants at Norris is something that is important to me,” she said.

That variety comes from Norris’s seven restaurants — including MOD Pizza, Starbucks and Shake Smart. But, restricted operating hours and opportunities to use meal exchanges make that variety seem limited to some students. 

Students on the Open Access meal plan are granted $125 in dining dollars every quarter. Students also receive five meal exchanges per week, which they can use to purchase select meals at some dining locations on campus.

Starbucks and Chicken & Boba do not accept meal exchanges, and Shake Smart only accepts them for five hours per day. 

Rooney said she prefers eating at restaurants in Norris that accept meal exchanges, but she occasionally uses her dining dollars.

“I would probably eat Chicken & Boba more if they took meal swipes,” she said. “I sometimes go and use my dining dollars there, but I prefer to use them at Starbucks.”

Executive Director of Norris University Center Corbin Smyth said a meal exchange is worth about $10, but that model makes it difficult for some businesses to offer. He cited Chicken & Boba’s $10.99 menu options as the reason for its lack of meal exchanges.

“They don’t have much that could be a meal and still fit in that range,” he said.

Even as limited opportunities to use meal exchange frustrate some students, they said they have observed some positive changes in Norris’ meal options, including an increase in vegan options. The Associated Student Government Sustainability Committee has been working this academic year to increase the number of vegan options in Norris restaurants.

SESP sophomore Louis Lee, a member of the Sustainability Committee, said several of his friends have struggled with a lack of vegan options.

“I have a lot of friends who are vegan,” he said. “Before, there were a lot of complaints about how there weren’t that many vegan options, and it’s just not something I hear as often now.”

All restaurants in Norris now have vegan options on their menu. For restaurants that offer meal exchanges, there is at least one vegan meal for students to choose. 

However, Lee said he currently takes issue with the working hours of Norris restaurants, especially on the weekends. The only restaurants open on the weekends are MOD Pizza, Starbucks and, on Saturday only, Chicken & Boba.

Smyth said the Norris administrative staff decides on hours based on how busy Norris is at different times.

“It really comes down to foot traffic in the building on Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “If we thought there would be a demand to drive traffic, we would absolutely want to have all those outlets open.”

Rooney said she wishes there were more flexibility with meal plan offerings for freshmen and sophomores. Currently, all freshmen and sophomores are assigned to the Open Access Meal Plan, which requires unlimited dining hall swipes, five meal exchanges each week and $125 in dining dollars each quarter. 

“There can always be improvements, but I think Norris has been making changes that are paying off really well,” Lee said.

Email: [email protected]

X: @ttaylormassey

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