Columnist discusses the dining hall dilemma

When deciding on a college, most prospective students will ask themselves countless questions. “Does this school offer what I want in terms of classes?” “What level of education will I receive here?” “Is the school in a suitable location?”

Unfortunately, however, a large percentage of them are so focused on these kinds of questions that they forget to ask one of the most important ones: “What is the food like?”

Initially the question sounds silly, but when put into perspective, it becomes crucial. After all, Allegheny’s cafeterias are the only way to eat a real meal without leaving campus.

At Allegheny College, students are given two options for nourishment (barring the obvious ones, such as stocking up enough ramen noodles to last a nuclear winter): eating at Brooks dining hall or chowing down at McKinley’s cafeteria.

Between these establishments, debates may arise about which of the two is better.

In terms of how they are organized, they vastly differ from one another.

The primary advantage for choosing to eat at McKinley’s is convenience: it is open later into the evening than its counterpart, running until three o’clock in the morning on weekends, and the food is packaged so that it could easily be eaten anywhere or even stored in a refrigerator to be finished at a later time. Brooks dining hall, on the other hand, has more of a traditional cafeteria feeling to it.

For instance, the menu at Brooks changes every day, with the options becoming far more unique as the year advances.

“We feature [lunches with] a variety of themes,” said Director of Dining for Parkhurst Scott Steiber, “Pittsburgh theme, pasta theme, salad bar… we’ve done a lot with that.”

Another benefit to eating at Brooks is the way meals are paid for.

Instead of every item being priced individually like at McKinley’s, students have a set number of meals at Brooks, which are based on the meal plan students choose before the semester.

Although this may mean it may not be worth it to go to Brooks dining hall for a quick bite to eat, for an actual meal it is far easier to just pay once to eat as much as you possibly can.

Of course, gorging on food merely because it is available is wholly unhealthy; you should only eat as much as is necessary. Nevertheless, for fighting hunger, Brooks is definitely the more successful and cost–effective option.

As far as nutrition goes, there is not too significant a difference between the two locations. Both of them receive their food from Parkhurst Dining Services, so if a ham-and-cheese omelet has 142 calories at McKinley’s, it will probably have that same amount of calories at Brooks as well.

Your best choice for nutrition is to look at the information both dining halls provide.

McKinley’s nutritional information is hanging in plain sight on the glass around the food itself, but as a result of Brooks’ always–changing menu, you have to look at a binder on a chair near the window where dirty cups, dishes, bowls and silverware are placed.

Similarly, the fact that Parkhurst Dining Services supplies both locations means that the food is generally of the same quality between the two. However, because of Brooks’ larger size, there are generally more options available there than at McKinley’s.

However, McKinley’s may be expanding its menu within the next few years.

“We have talked about having fresh sushi, but it would require a bit of a redesign architecturally,” said Michael Zanie, the General Manager of McKinley’s. “We’re tapped out of power, and we need more electricity for the refrigerators.”

They also discussed reopening the bakery window in the Campus Center as well, but they are trying to find a way so that students do not have to pay for food at both McKinley’s and the bakery. “No one wants to wait in line twice,” Zanie concluded.

As for the final verdict over which location is superior, it all relies on the meal itself.

If you want to have a nice dinner or a hearty, healthy breakfast, Brooks’ vast selection and all–you–can–eat approach makes it a clear choice.

On the other hand, McKinley’s is better for a quick lunch or a late–night snack due to its long hours and the ability to take food on the go without a hassle.

Personal preferences may affect some decisions, but on an objective scale, the two are fairly balanced out.

Of course, you can always go into Meadville and visit an actual restaurant or just order a pizza.