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Discussions ongoing on development of electronic meal exchange system

The USG is in discussions with the Interclub Council and Dining Services to develop an electronic meal exchange system for upperclassmen in eating clubs and dining halls.

By digitizing the system, the USG is aiming to streamline the meal exchange process, University Student Life Committee chair Ella Cheng ’16 said. Under the current system, students have to manually fill out cards, stating the eating club and the dining hall where the meal exchange will be fulfilled.

“It can record where your meals are supposed to be, and it just makes the system a lot easier, and also easier for data collection so you can know how many were used and have everything in one place, and it automatically generates the monthly report they have to do,” she said.

Cheng is a former staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.

One of the project leaders, USLC member Alec Regulski ’16, described the current paper-based system as chaotic.

“I used to work in Dining Services at the office, and I used to be in charge of matching the cards together, and stuff always gets lost; people fill out cards incorrectly, so this would just be a lot easier,” he said. “I know it’s definitely a burden on the eating clubs, because it’s very hard to keep track of all of [the cards].”

Interclub Council president and Quadrangle Club president Joe Margolies ’15 said the biggest problem with the paper system is that students forget to complete exchanges before the end of the month and are charged for their meals.

Dining Policy Committee chair and Class of 2015 senator Nihar Madhavan approached Margolies with the proposal at the beginning of the month. They discussed the project with the other club presidents at the ICC meeting on April 2.

Madhavan said most of the clubs supported the decision, but one or two resisted because they did not see the benefits.

“One of the big stumbling blocks we ran into was that different clubs have different rules for what kinds of technology can be there,” Madhavan said, explaining that some clubs have student meal checkers, some have staff meal checkers and some don’t have meal checkers at all. “Because of all these variations, finding a method that could work for everyone is kind of a challenge.”

Cheng said the USG is taking into account the particular needs of each club.

“We have to basically get buy-in from as many eating clubs as possible,” she said, “so we’re kind of seeing this as more of a microeffort rather than just implementing a whole system for every eating club right now.”

The presidents of Tower Club, Cap & Gown Club, Quadrangle Club and Ivy Club expressed willingness to adopt an electronic meal exchange system.

Tower president John Whelchel ’15 said his club could easily switch to an electronic meal exchange system because it currently uses a digital component alongside the paper cards.

“But if we could get rid of the card and just sign up on the website, because we already have a person with a laptop, it would be much simpler for us,” he explained.

Terrace Club president Chris St John ’15 and Charter Club president Josh Zimmer ’15 declined to comment.

Colonial president Sarah Pak ’15, Tiger Inn president Oliver Bennett ’15, Cottage Club president William Hicks ’15, Cannon Dial Elm Club president Connor Kelley ’15, and Cloister Inn president Andrew Frazier ’15 did not respond to requests for comment.

Margolies said he thinks all of the presidents are on board.

“As soon as they talk to their graduate boards and get more information about what the clubs are willing to do, we can see some actual progress,” he said.

Though the details are still undecided, Madhavan said he hopes the new electronic system will include co-ops, send reminders a week before the end of the month so that students complete their meal exchanges and maintain the spontaneity of eating with friends at different clubs and in dining halls.

Assistant Director of Campus Dining Financial Services Dave Goetz said Dining Services would want to see the program tested by one or two clubs over a semester or so before expanding the system to all upperclassmen.

Associate Director of Residential Dining Sue Pierson said she was open to the proposal.

“We always try to work with the students, and if it’s an initiative that will work for them and works for us and it gets approved, we’re all for it,” she said.

Margolies said he expects the ICC to discuss the electronic meal exchange system at one or two more meetings this spring.

“What we’re aiming to do is have all the clubs agree on what they’re willing to do by the beginning of the summer so that the computer science side can get to work on how best to implement the system on a technical scale,” he noted, predicting that upperclassmen would start to use the system sometime next year.

In September 2011, then-USG IT committee chair Rodrigo Menezes ’13 presented an electronic meal exchange system called MealChecker as a new TigerApp. According to Goetz, the students involved said they would test the system between two clubs and report their results to Dining Services, but they never did so.

Menezes did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
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