Summer dining posed challenges for students

The Marketplace at Occidental College. April 13, 2020. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

This past summer, Occidental Campus Dining modified the dining system to accommodate a different campus population and reduced dining staff. According to Campus Dining, the a la carte dining system that is normally in place during the academic year was switched to an “all-you-care-to-eat” (AYCTE) system — a buffet-style dining system in which diners swipe once to enter the Marketplace and access unlimited amounts of food.

Though the AYCTE system was implemented last summer, new bans on taking food outside or in to-go containers were introduced and the Tiger Cooler was kept open this summer.

The updates aimed to reduce waste and manage cost, Associate Director of Campus Dining Robert Starec said.

“If you’re having a full meal and you take another full meal to-go, we don’t know whether the guest is using it, giving it to someone else or [if] it’s going to waste,” Starec said.

Generally, Starec said that the AYCTE system mitigates confusion among the summer campus population, which typically consists of conference groups and younger-aged children.

“It would be a lot to expect of them to come into the dining facility, navigate our menu boards, the pricing, manage their trays and also handle payments,” Starec said.

Robert Starec, Associate Director of Campus Dining, discusses his involvement with the baked goods outside of The Tiger Cooler at Occidental College in Los Angeles, on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. Miaja Lemieux/ The Occidental

Last summer, Campus Dining implemented a pilot program for to-go meals, which saw hundreds of single-use product kits go to waste, according to Starec. These results prompted Campus Dining to discontinue the to-go program at the Marketplace this summer and instead open the Tiger Cooler as a to-go option.

Starec said opening the Tiger Cooler also offered a second dining option where students could use meal swipes up to a certain dollar amount, rather than relying solely on the Marketplace for food.

This year, Campus Dining also made adjustments to summer dining hours. According to Starec, the Marketplace was open every day from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., one hour earlier than during the academic year and 30 minutes later than in previous summers. The Tiger Cooler was open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Starec said. These hours meant there were no on-campus dining options after 7:00 p.m.

Despite the addition of the Tiger Cooler as a second dining option, students living on campus over the summer faced challenges with the smaller portion sizes, earlier hours, fewer choices and only two card swipes per day.

Norah Ruvalcaba (junior), a member of the Occidental women’s water polo team, was living on campus over the summer for an internship and said she understood why the change was implemented.

“I think it makes a lot of sense,” Ruvalcaba said. “The school operates at a lower capacity, so I understand that you can’t have [the Marketplace] open at all times.”

Summer Dining
Norah Ruvalcaba (junior) of water polo speaks about campus dining this summer at Occidental Campus in Los Angeles CA. Sept. 5, 2023. Alex Witten/The Occidental

Even so, Ruvalcaba’s off-campus internship made it difficult for her to adhere to the new hours while also making time to go to the gym.

“I was pretty much working a nine-to-five job, and so I found myself sacrificing training for my sport or trying to make it to dinner,” Ruvalcaba said.

Candace Farling (junior), a member of the Occidental women’s swim team, was on campus for research over the summer. Farling also faced similar issues due to reduced hours and limited swipes. According to Farling, she often found herself very hungry later in the evenings or struggling with fewer food options available to choose from.

“I feel like a lot of the food is catered toward the summer camps and the kids that are there,” Farling said. “There was one day that we had mac and cheese, chicken tenders and quesadillas. That’s not really a meal.”

Summer Dining
Courtesy of Candace Farling

Without convenient access to Campus Dining options, some students resorted to buying food off campus. However, like most students on campus, Farling and Ruvalcaba said they didn’t have the time, extra resources or energy to spend on buying and preparing groceries. As a result, both said their expenses for food were higher than anticipated.

“I spent a lot on microwave dinners, which aren’t that nutritious,” Ruvalcaba said.

When asked about complaints regarding the summer dining system, Starec acknowledged the challenges that come with implementing a new system that people aren’t used to. He emphasized that his priority is to meet the needs of the diners and employees at Campus Dining.

“We try our best to offer things to keep [the Occidental community] engaged and keep their morale up,” said Starec, noting the addition of the Tiger Cooler as an example.

Farling and Ruvalcaba said they appreciate Campus Dining’s attempts to cater to diverse groups, but they hope for a more balanced approach in the future that resembles a compromise between student needs and operational challenges.

“I wish it was more of a half-and-half situation,” Farling said.

Contact Sabastian Luyen at


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here