If we’re paying more, the cafeteria must improve



After two years of working as a reporter and editor, Kendal Manns, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, will take over as the 2022-23 editor-in-chief of The Hornet Tribune, the oldest Black college newspaper in the nation. His term began on May 1, 2022.

Kendal Manns, Editor-in-Chief

With the Fall 2022 semester almost halfway through, one of the frequent topics of discussion has been the Fred Shuttlesworth Commons, Alabama State University’s cafeteria. The food and long lines at the cafe headline a long list of issues, despite students paying $1776 for an all-access meal plan with tax.
After the university raised the cost of the meal plan by $132 more than the previous year, one would think the food quality would improve. The summer construction of the cafe itself would lead people to believe that the efficiency would improve as well. In my opinion, that could be further from the truth.
As with any cafeteria, the most important thing is the quality of the food. Our cafe is hit-or-miss when it comes to quality. Stale chips. Pizza with raw dough. Overcooked rice. Food with little to no seasoning. Burgers that look and taste days old. These are just a few examples of what one can expect from the cafe throughout the week.
The portion sizes are an issue too. They are far too small for the money students pay and the long lengths of time we have to wait for the food. Again, we are spending over $1700 per semester. The least they could do is give us a sizable portion of quality food. It is especially difficult when students are on the go and do not have time to eat and get seconds.
One of my biggest gripes with the cafe is the long lines that can extend outside of the building itself. With the renovations done during the summer, some of the areas that used to distribute the food are now either not used at all or used for sandwich or salad bars. The setup from last year allowed the lines to be spaced out, utilizing all the space. Currently, the cafe only has two stations that distribute grill options and one healthier option. There is also a pizza station to the far left.
The lines are so jumbled up now that the wait times not only feel longer, but the long lines are almost guaranteed to extend out the door daily. This is especially true on “Fried Chicken Wednesdays.” Three stations give out the same thing, yet the lines are still unreasonably long.
Another reason for the long lines is the use of one station for one thing and no direction to get to it. For example, for “Taco Tuesdays” the nachos are given out in their own section at the end of two different lines, making getting them a nightmare for all students. It would make more sense for the nachos to be distributed at all the sections. The flow of traffic would be a lot smoother if that were the case.
With lines as long as these, the least the university could do is lengthen the cafe hours. Currently the weekly hours are 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for lunch and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for dinner (according to the official university website). Not only do these hours not allow for every student to get their food with regular lines, but especially with long lines like there are currently. I have personally decided not to go to the cafe multiple times due to the long lines and the potential of me missing class.
If the hours were extended, myself and many other students would be able to juggle our eating and class times much better. The university already has trouble keeping cafe times consistent, especially for dinner. The cafe is supposed to open at 4 p.m. but there have been several times I have gone only to hear that it is not opening until 5 or 5:30 p.m. Extending the hours would alleviate a lot of problems and would make the long lines seem like less of a hassle.
The ID station is another new addition to the cafe this year, and it has been a catastrophe. With as many students that enter the cafe, there are only two iPad mechanisms used to swipe students’ ID cards to ensure students with a meal plan are getting their food. Most of the time, only one of these iPads works, which leads to longer lines and sometimes workers getting fed up and just letting students get through. It makes no sense.
Another thing that baffles me is how the cafe no longer gives students the option of having takeout containers. Instead, students are expected to stack plates on top of each other to take them outside the building, like this is a glorified cookout. The motivation behind this change was that students were using takeout containers to eat inside the building. I understand the sentiment that students were misusing the container itself, but that should not constitute getting rid of the containers altogether. Logistically students are paying a large sum of money per semester to not have access to take-out containers.
If you are going to charge students more money, the improvements should match the expenses. Besides the aesthetic changes, I would argue the cafe operated better last year. To be clear, the lines were still long, but they were spaced out in a way that made more sense. The cafe has to improve sooner rather than later. Otherwise, what is the point of paying so much for worse service than the previous year?