Short Lunch, Long Line

By Sarah Nguyen '19 and Tori Carr '19

October 2018 Issue

     As the period before lunch gets dismissed, students rush out of their classes and make their way to the already growing lunch line trying to secure a good spot before the rest of the school arrives. Backpacks are stuffed into the cubbies, lockers are slammed, and the line is already backed up to the bathrooms. Although our school has made efforts in the past to shorten the line and maximize lunchtime, the question still remains: Why does the line take so long to go through?

     We interviewed several students and asked them a series of questions about their thoughts on the lunch line. When surveyed about the time they spend in line, most students said that the wait takes them an average of 15-20 minutes. The time spent to eat is also about 15 minutes. After that 40 minute period, students have little time to clear their plates and hurry off to class. Some students even commented that if they have to meet with a teacher, they aren’t able to eat lunch!

     When asked if they thought taking off their backpacks in line really helps, most students replied “no.” Evan Roper, a junior, said, “I don’t think it matters. I don’t think it’ll affect the lunch line at all.”

     We also asked students to answer honestly if they cut the line to get their food more quickly. Since the line is so backed up and the wait time is long, many students do cut in line, but most avoided answering this question. However, junior Jamal Barnes, admits he cuts multiple times. He said, “I usually cut an average of two to three minutes [of waiting in line]. I probably have like thirty minutes left, but you know I usually come back in line three or four times. Each time is like a minute.”

     This brings up the issue of students getting seconds and slowing down the line. We asked all the students we interviewed if they had any solutions in mind for the lunch line. Junior Nik Sen Dasgupta suggested the school should, “get another lunch line. We can all get food faster.” Most students didn’t have any suggestions; sophomore, Julian Mosley responded with, “not really, no, they do the best they can.”

     Claire Toman, a junior who doesn’t buy lunch, also complained about the long line. She said, “bringing lunch is, kind of, more work, but it’s worth it because I hate waiting.”

     In addition to interviewing a few students, we also interviewed two members of the faculty, Upper School Director Mr. Mallett and Visual Arts Teacher Ms. Elkins. Mr. Mallett had a lot of ideas and suggests that the most effective change would include multiple lunch periods in next year’s possible schedule change, but he could not confirm that the schedule would include this change.

     Mr. Mallett says, “With respect to the schedule change, that has been a priority of ours… as we look at our best use of time, and that [dining hall] space and our population.” He believes that the problem is rooted in the fact that there are 470 students and around 100 faculty members. Mr. Mallett said, “a single lunch period puts a strain on our facilities.”

     Not everyone buys lunch, but a large part of our school still does. It is incredibly difficult to serve that many people in a short, 45-minute period. There have already been improvements made to shorten the lunch line including creating a second hot lunch line and taking off backpacks when in line. However, there is very little the school could do besides a possible schedule change to make improvements.

     Small improvements that would help the lunch line flow faster would be if the serving area could be made bigger and if there were multiple paying stations instead of one, because, even though the line is the main issue, optimizing other parts of the dining hall would greatly help the situation. When asked if cutting affects the overall speed of the line, Mr. Mallett explains that it doesn’t have to do with the length of the line, since there are the same number of kids, however, it “undermines the integrity of our community” because “no student is more important than another student.”

     The other faculty member we interviewed was Ms. Elkins because she has monitored the lunch line earlier this school year and was kind enough to share her thoughts with us. She said that the lunch is so long because “The food must be really, really good!” This is an important perspective because many members of our community forget that SAGE, our cafeteria staff, works hard and makes the lunch line to be as fast as they can.

     Ms. Elkins believes that taking off backpacks in line is helpful, but that brought up a new issue: that “people tend to stumble and trip over them” so ... we need to find a solution as to where to put the backpacks.” She agreed with Mr. Mallett that the people cutting in the line don’t slow down the line, but “if you’re a Saint you shouldn’t be cutting in front of other people.” She thinks that around ten percent of all students cut in line. She wasn’t sure of solutions because the lunch staff already do a great job, and it’s difficult to serve so many people at once without a long line. Her solution was “to alleviate the bottlenecks, and cutting down on the cutting would be the best approach.”

     We decided to tackle this issue head-on, by going to the very back of the line in the midst of the chaos and videotape our experience. We are both frequent lunch buyers, but we often get to the line before it gets too long or go through the salad line instead. It took us 17 minutes to get through the lunch line on Wednesday, September 19th. That only included the in-line wait time for food and not the additional time it took waiting in line at the paying station.

     The long lunch line is a difficult problem to fix and requires an outside of the box solution. Hearing from both the students and the faculty will help us target issues and create solutions that will benefit everyone in the future.

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