By Kayla Jimenez
Night Owl (NOWL): a staple of on-campus life here at Binghamton University. Whether you’re up late studying, returning from an evening of drinking Downtown, struggling to quell your late night munchies, or in dire need of a midnight snack, NOWL is essential to your existence. Prior to this semester, each of the dining halls (College in the Woods, Hinman, Appalachian, and Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center (C4)) provided a late night option, but that is no longer the case. Sodexo decided last semester that the C4 and Appalachian Dining Centers are to be the only remaining NOWL locations in operation beginning in the Spring 2016 semester. One month into the transition, I’m left wondering what brought about this change and how on-campus residents are reacting.
To appease the unrest that ensued following residents’ adjustments to the new NOWL system, the remaining locations have stepped up their game. App and C4 are hosting more choices at each location, including new healthier and self-serve options as well as classic NOWL favorites, making the trip is worth the few extra steps.We are #blessed with the new menu additions, such as quesadillas, wings, waffles, pancakes, and a sandwich/salad bar. Increased variety and the potential to actually consume a seemingly nutritious meal are trade-offs many students are willing to make. While on the quesadilla line, I had the time to converse with fellow student Stephanie Brudermann, a freshman majoring in engineering; she said, “I’ve been waiting in line for a quesadilla for, like, twenty minutes, but these quesadillas are dank… it’s worth it.”
The quesadillas as well as many other of the new and traditional menu features are, in fact, dank. Yet so far, the quality of the food has decreased consistently since the implementation of the two NOWL system; the quesadilla line often lacks a variety of ingredients, running out of steak and chicken on multiple occasions. It is seemingly unusual for Sodexo to serve such tasty and nutritious snacks, especially at Night Owl. This is what concerns me: why, suddenly, did Sodexo change the NOWL game? What brought about this decision in the first place?
According to Casey Slocum, the marketing coordinator for Sodexo, the reduction of Night Owl locations is an attempt to battle long lines and extensive wait times. It’s simple math: halving the number of NOWLs operating will also decrease the length of lines. Just kidding- that reasoning is completely illogical. With half the amount of NOWLs, residents from all five communities are forced to use only two NOWLs, which in reality only lengthens the lines due to the increase and influx of people at each facility. From my vast experience with NOWL in the last month, I can assure you that the lines have not improved whatsoever; in my opinion, they’ve gotten slightly worse.
Slocum’s statement is questionable. She is the marketing coordinator for Sodexo; it is her job to advertise for and maintain the reputation of Sodexo here on campus. If not to improve our experiences at NOWL, why did Sodexo eliminate the College in the Woods and Hinman locations?
With all of the recent drama surrounding Sodexo’s relations with its Binghamton employees, it is likely that the change in NOWL operations had little to do with increasing consumer satisfaction. A transition in Union representation for the Binghamton Sodexo workers has led to countless negotiations between Sodexo and its employees, and these negotiations have gone nowhere. Workers are frustrated with their low wages and lack of benefits. Rumor has it that late night and NOWL employees requested higher pay for late and overnight shifts, but Sodexo refused to meet such demands, leaving the NOWLs understaffed and in need of cut backs.
Was this decision part of a margin-increasing plan? Is Sodexo profiting from this? Was the transition necessary because employees are refusing to continue taking Sodexo’s sh*t? For now, the answer is unclear. While we may be distracted from these changes and their underlying causes while stuffing our faces with mozz sticks and quesadillas, let’s not forget that Sodexo is here to make profit, and their decision to take away the College in the Woods and Hinman NOWLs is likely the first of many changes we are going to see on campus as tensions increase between Sodexo and its employees. If we want to continue to enjoy late night snacks and meals, Sodexo needs to reevaluate its relationship with its employees and make crucial changes… it is necessary for the survival of NOWL.