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Meal Ticket

Thanks to new partnerships, Pitt students can now use their campus Dining Dollars to support local eateries.
Illustrated by
Joyce Hesselberth

moving illustration of people's heads, eating utensils, and food and drink that gradually disappears as if getting consumed

It’s noon, and Daniel Rudy is ready for lunch. So, the fourth-year grabs his mask and ventures from his off-campus apartment to one of Pitt’s main thoroughfares, Forbes Avenue, which has plenty of restaurants that can satisfy his hunger.

Rudy isn’t the only Pitt student checking out the avenue’s options. Student diners are everywhere and many, like him, are using their student meal plan to catch a bite beyond the University’s dining halls.

That wasn’t always possible. A year ago, student meal plans only included on-campus locations, which meant the plan’s Dining Dollars couldn’t be accepted by local establishments. At that time, Rudy, who was then serving as president of the Resident Students Association, signed on to a committee put together by Julie Bannister, assistant vice chancellor of auxiliary services, Ryan Varley from athletics and Steve Anderson, associate dean of students.

As a student representative, Rudy helped to evaluate new dining contracts. He teamed up with Peter Bosco (A&S ’21), majoring in economics and political science, and Ryan Schonbachler (BUS ’21), majoring in supply chain management, to present ideas about how to improve meal plans.

It led to Rudy spending hours some days in meetings with potential food contractors, which was a particularly impressive use of his time, given his academic pursuit of degrees in math, computer science, and economics; with minors in chemistry and Hispanic language and culture. He relished the opportunity, however, to be the voice of his fellow students, especially when discussing a part of campus life so integral to the college experience.

The time he spent at the negotiating table enabled him to emphasize that many students value variety as well as affordability in their meal plans. They also want sustainably sourced foods from local vendors. And they want to use their Dining Dollars in more places.

Pitt’s Office of Business and Auxiliary Services heard them. Through the new PittEats Local Program, beginning last fall, 25 percent of Dining Dollars are allocated to local off-campus vendors. This means students can use their meal plans at some of their favorite restaurants, enjoying familiar comfort foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner and even after late-night Zoom study sessions.

The new policy is one of several changes made in partnership with Compass Group, the company selected to be Pitt’s new dining contractor. Joe Beaman, Director of Dining Services at Pitt points out that most of the changes—from expanded efforts to procure local foods to increased commitments to sustainability—are directly inspired by student feedback.

It’s not just students who benefit. According to Assistant Vice Chancellor Bannister, PittEats Local is meant to support the community. To that end, in order to participate, restaurants have to be local or family-owned, or their corporate office has to be based in the Pittsburgh region. Several business owners have recently noted that Dining Dollars have been somewhat of a lifeline during COVID-19, helping them to acquire new and returning take-out customers at a time when restrictions on in-person dining threatened to limit sales.

For Rudy, he says the time he spent helping to make all of this happen was well worth it. Especially at lunchtime on Forbes Avenue.

 

This story is part of Pitt Magazine’s special Summer ’21 digital issue. Check back here regularly throughout the season for new stories!