The COVID-19 pandemic has required unexpected yet necessary changes to everyday life on campus. While the introduction of the mobile ordering system for Summerfields and Weshop last semester offered a solution to reduce in-person dining areas, the limited number of spaces for order pickups have raised concerns about food insecurity on campus and whether the app can be sustainable in the long run.
The app seems to function smoothly for mobile orders to Summerfields, however, students have expressed dissatisfaction with mobile ordering at Weshop. With a limited number of spaces available for orders in one day, students who rely on Weshop as their main source of food are sometimes left without groceries and other essentials.
“The inaccessibility of Weshop makes me unable to use the incredibly expensive meal plan we pay for, forcing me to go to CVS to buy essentials with actual money because they’re unavailable at Weshop [since] I can’t get an order in on time,” said a student who asked to remain anonymous. “This system also sucks because shopping [at] Weshop seems like it should be significantly less of a risk than, say, getting dinner in Usdan in that crowded indoor space.”
As part of the “Leadership and Legacy: Exploring Your Leadership Style and Potential” student forum, Darielis Rivas ’23 and Joshua Kleiman ’24 started a social media campaign to raise awareness about the limitations of the mobile order app on campus.
“We were brainstorming ideas [for a social media campaign] and one of the things that we thought about that is super frustrating is the whole picking up groceries at Weshop and having to order on the app,” said Rivas.
In particular, the two worried about access to food for first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students on campus who looked to Weshop as a substitute for expensive grocery shopping near campus.
“A lot of first-generation, low-income students rely on Weshop to be able to get groceries because it’s kind of hard to just go to Price Chopper or ALDI or other grocery stores and spend actual money [when you can use] points at Weshop,” said Rivas. “It just makes it inaccessible when you can’t really order throughout the day and then even some of the items that you ordered are not in stock…I think that the lack of access to groceries, especially for students who cannot get those groceries otherwise, could cause insecurity.”
Despite the dissatisfaction with the app, Rivas and Kleiman wanted to clarify that their criticism is not directed towards the Bon Appétit workers who have been working tirelessly to keep things going on campus.
“We wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t an attack on the Weshop workers and all the stuff that they’re doing because they’re doing their best,” said Rivas. “This is not at all about them, it’s just the system is not effective. And so we think that there’s definitely ways it can be improved in order to ensure that everyone gets the groceries that they need.”
Students echoed this sentiment in a Google Form set up by Rivas and Kleiman to gauge student reactions to the mobile ordering process.
“I want it to be very clear that students are in no way criticizing the efforts of the Weshop employees, who are working so hard to fulfill needs given the circumstances they’ve been dealt,” said one anonymous student. “Not being able to fulfill as many orders, or being unexpectedly out of stock of certain items, are issues that are a result of the fact that they’re being required to use this app.”
Feedback from the form also indicated that students were most fed up with how fast pickup time slots were filling up, the lack of information surrounding nutrition and ingredients, and missing items from orders.
“I cannot see the list of ingredients and possibly know what I can and can’t eat. Wesleyan is supposed to be inclusive but I have spent hours trying to discern what is edible for me,” one of the responses to the Google Form reads.
Moreover, some international students have been disappointed to find that they cannot download the app.
“It’s only available on the US iTunes Store, which I don’t have (and can’t change to because other app subscriptions don’t carry over) which means since they’ve put it on the app I haven’t been able to get Summies or any groceries from Weshop! It’s infuriating! And as someone with lots of dietary requirements it’s fiercely limiting,” another response to the Google Form reads.
The issue was brought to the attention of the Wesleyan Student Assembly’s (WSA) Dining Committee, who met on March 19 to include the issues with the app in an ongoing conversation about food insecurity on campus.
“We were sort of wondering, ‘Is there any way we can make it where you don’t have to stay up until midnight to order?’ And we were also concerned about people’s orders not going through,” Dining Committee member and WSA Senator Ruby Clarke ’24 said.
While there is not much the University can do to change the function of the app due to the way it was coded, they have tried to fix the ordering system by expanding hours.
“One of the things they were able to do was expand their hours to accommodate more requests per day and recently they haven’t been running out of stuff,” Clarke said.
Resident District Manager for Bon Appetit Michael Strumpf echoed students’ concerns as he and the rest of the dining team continue to try to adjust their services to the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The students’ concerns [are] my concerns too and the app hasn’t been friendly to us on our end and it definitely hasn’t been very friendly to the customers, which bothers me,” Strumpf said.
Strumpf emphasized that the decision to use the mobile order system was not taken lightly, especially considering the app is traditionally used for restaurant ordering, not grocery shopping.
“The University and I sat down with the salesperson for this app and the first question I asked was how would this app work in a market environment,” said Strumpf. “[When] I asked, ‘Can I see it work somewhere that is similar to what we have here,’ they said, ‘Well we really don’t have [an example] but it [should] work.’ So I was skeptical from the beginning.”
Despite the limitations of the app, the adjustments have allowed students to better socially distance and limit the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
“Our thought process [has been] how [do] we keep the store, the students, and the staff as safe as possible,” Strumpf said.
As the situation with COVID-19 progresses, Strumpf and the rest of his team hope to continue to promote safety on campus while staying open to student feedback.
Jo Harkless can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.