The downfall of late night at Berkshire Dining Commons

Good bye late night, hello eating in your dorm


(Collegian File Photo)

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

I’ve spent the last two weekends or so watching an endless cycle of excitement and disappointment work its way through the student body.

On the second Friday of the semester, excited for late night at Berkshire Dining Commons, like thousands of other students who live in and around Southwest, I was met with an unpleasant surprise.

When I walked in, the big metal gate at the entrance to the dining room was closed. In place of the welcoming employees stood multiple managers, letting us know that Grab n’ Go was open. I asked other students what was going on, and everyone seemed to think that there was some problem in the dining room, forcing Berk to close and in place open Grab n’ Go for the night.

So, we returned the following night, and found the same thing — dining room closed, Grab n’ Go open. All were excited, all were disappointed.

As it turns out, UMass Dining had decided to end late night on the weekends this year, and like every other student I’ve talked to, I am not thrilled.

The reasons behind this decision vary — Director of Residential Dining Services and Auxiliary Enterprises, Garett DiStefano, tried to rationalize this in a few ways when speaking to The Collegian last week. DiStefano suggested this is simply a modification, and now we can have the same food but with the added benefit of being able to take it out of the dining hall.

DiStefano also offered the other dining options around Southwest, such as Chicken & Co. and the BabyBerk trucks. Another point he mentioned was the lack of volume late night traffics at Worcester, hence the reason for that dining hall closing completely in designated late night hours on the weekends.

First of all, this new “Night Owl Café,” Berk’s attempt to make this service reduction sound cool, is not the same food as there is upstairs like DiStefano claims. It’s one hot entrée option, a bunch of cold sandwiches and a few different kinds of chips as a side.

Second, the other options around Southwest are all well and good, but you can’t use meal swipes there. You have to spend dining dollars or your own money to purchase any food items.

As for closing Worcester’s late night dining all together, it’s extremely unfair to the students living in Northeast, Central, Orchard Hill and North Apartments. Although, I haven’t lived on Worcester’s side of campus for two years now, the foot traffic was still substantial and far from empty.

Let’s take DiStefano on his word and assume that UMass Dining made this change because of the input of “student ambassadors” who evaluated the dining commons throughout the last year. If those ambassadors indicated that students would prefer food options to-go in place of late night, that’s fine. I would agree with this input. But that’s an improvement, in addition to the current dining room setup, not a replacement.

Late night is one of the coolest and niche aspects about UMass Dining, it gives students an opportunity not just to eat but to gather during hours not available at a lot of other schools.

My best friend goes to Stonehill College, a place where one dining hall is open from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and from 4:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. for dinner. The fact that our dining halls stay open as late as they do amazes him, because what UMass Dining does is very different from most schools.

The greatness of UMass Dining is in its accessibility, even more so than the food. It’s not that every single bite you eat is of some otherworldly flavor — it’s that you have choices between dining halls and tremendous variety within each. You know that with your meal plan you can have something to eat at any time, from 6 a.m. to midnight every single day.

The decision to close late night on the weekends leaves thousands of students scrambling for dining options on Friday and Saturday night., pigeon-holed into either spending dining dollars at other eateries or settling for a weak Grab n’ Go selection. DiStefano will call this “upscale” because the managers at Berk shoved six tables in a small side room, turned on some music and added some colored lighting.

UMass Dining has been ranked number one in the country for three straight years, and it’s hard to find things to complain about. Maybe we’ve been spoiled over the years. Maybe there’s a better reasoning that the University hasn’t provided yet.

Meal plan costs are on the rise — the most basic residential meal plan cost $5,396 last year, but would run you $5,558 this year — and yet service is on the decline. It’s a trend that can’t continue.

I appreciate UMass Dining’s attempts to better itself — but if a handful of student ambassadors have convinced you to make this error, the thousands of students that have panned it for the last two weeks should be enough to convince you to rectify it.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.