Dining drama: Southside and Pilot House to be closed on weekends

UPDATE (as of 9/4): On Thursday (9/4), Mason Dining announced that Southside and Pilot House will both resume weekend operations. Pilot House will be closed this weekend to purchase food and train staff. It will reopen on Tuesday, Sep. 9. Read our full coverage here.

Mason Dining has implemented some new changes this semester including the “Anytime Dining” meal system, optical scanners to enter dining halls and the re-opening of Ike’s as a 24-hour meal option in President’s Park. Now two of Mason’s longstanding dining locations, Southside and Pilot House, will be closed on the weekends.

Southside, an all you can eat buffet-style facility, started a late-night option last semester while Ike’s was under renovation. Pilot House was strictly open at night and provided a made-to-order experience where students could pay in meal plans or cash. Along with it closing on the weekends, Pilot House is now a more traditional dining hall similar to Southside.

Mark Kraner, the executive director for Retail Operations, says that the move was made due to insufficient volume to support the two dining areas. According to Kraner, Southside costs $10,000 per day in labor alone. He also says that Dining hopes the focus on Ike’s will create a tradition around the dining area and keep students around on the weekends.

“We suggested and it was discussed and accepted that we make Ike’s the location for weekends to make it so that it looked busy because, one of the issues that can happen on the weekends is we lose [students],” Kraner said.

Kraner claims that Mason loses about 60% of its students on the weekends.

The closing of these two facilities for the weekend has sparked frustration from students who have gotten used to the two options being available on the weekends.

“They’ve both been really convenient, especially on weekends [or] awkward hours,” said Alice Visocchi, an on-campus senior. “[The closing of] Pilot House is just unfortunate, it was a good place to hang out late [or] get food in the middle of the night without having to swipe in.”

A protest Facebook page and two online petitions have been started to work toward re-opening the dining areas. A small protest even started outside of the Northern Neck Starbucks yesterday. Yet, the Facebook page titled “GMU Dining: Where Starvation is Tradition” does not have all students supporting it’s motto.

“I believe the […] page is inappropriate and immature,” said senior Natalie Mullins. “There are students on campus who are quite literally starving – students who, by some turn of events, lack the nutrition and peace of mind that comes with knowing you will be served or have the option of eating three square meals a day.”

Visocchi believes Facebook is an insufficient form of protest.

“Facebook isn’t how you change things, nor is dramatic over-exaggeration”, said Visocchi. “On the other hand, if they use said Facebook page to coordinate efforts to meet with dining staff [or] university staff, then good.”

Storm Paglia, executive undersecretary for Dining in Mason Student Government, encourages students to talk to him about their concerns with the dining changes.

“I really want students to contact me and tell me how they feel,” Paglia said. “I know there’s that general sense of anger and stuff toward it, but If they can give me specific reasons why they think it should be open, that would be great.”

While some students think that the change is not in their best interest, Mullins and Visocchi both think that students are reacting somewhat dramatically.

“Complaining never solved anything,” Mullins said. “I commend those students willing to eloquently and maturely state solutions, but at the end of the day, we all must realize that pleasing every student on a campus as large as this one is not realistic.”

According to Kraner, Mason Dining releases a survey for student input every November which yielded 2,000 responses last semester. They also work with Student Government, who released an official statement on the closings last week apologizing for the “rough start.” Both Kraner and Paglia think that change is always difficult at first, but people eventually get used to it.

“The Student Dining Committee […] is going to be talking with dining administration […] to figure out if there is meal demand for [the two facilities] and see how we would go about accounting for that,” Paglia said.

Ike’s will be closed this weekend, starting at 2 PM on Friday Sep. 5 until  7 AM on Monday Sep. 7, to finish some renovations.