New Caf Hours Allow More Flexibility in Daytime, Fewer Options at Night


Senior Sarah Kirchoff and freshman Eliot Higgins order dinner at Big Cats Grill.

Tessa Wienss

The 7 a.m to 7 p.m. dining hours that were introduced after the $2 million cafeteria upgrade in 2020 have quelled the weekday lunch rush, but some students are frustrated by the shortened hours at the smaller campus grills and cafés.

In previous years, the cafeteria would close on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. to prepare for lunch, then close again between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to prep for dinner. On the weekend, the cafeteria was only open for brunch from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. and for dinner from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.

While the cafeteria hours were increased, other dining options on campus shortened their hours. On the old schedule, Big Cats Grill was open from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.; it is now open from 5 to 10 p.m. Subway is currently open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Starbucks is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Library Café was once open from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, but it is now closed on weekends.

“Sometimes I am worried that due to my busy schedule I will not be able to get something substantial or healthy to fuel myself for practice or games,” said junior Julianna Paulsen, who plays as a forward on the women’s soccer team.

With at least nine hours of training and four hours in competition each week, Paulsen said she finds it difficult to fuel herself with the dining hours available to her. When the team travels and returns to campus late at night, at times no on-campus food option is open. Paulsen works as a teaching assistant at CUC and as a customer service associate for the Villa Park parks and recreation department. “It has been hard around my busy schedule since I am a student-athlete, work two jobs, and am a part of a club,” said Paulsen. 

The cafeteria hours expanded to meet student needs, said Frank Budig, general manager of food services. “We try to base all of our decisions on student feedback and what their traffic flows tell us,” Budig said.

In a focus group held before the renovation in 2020, Budig said, students expressed a need for longer cafeteria hours. From those focus group discussions came the idea for the cafeteria to be open for 12 hours.  

“With the cafeteria being open all day, it’s convenient for students with tough class schedules,” said senior Jesse Schultz.

The 12-hour schedule helped to decrease the lunch rush during the chapel break at 11 a.m. In the 2020-2021 school year, around 115 students would show up every weekday for lunch. Since the cafeteria hours have been expanded, the lunch rush is down to just 60 to 65 students each day. “We wanted to spread the rush out so that students had time to get food the way they want it,” said Budig.

Limiting hours at the Library Café and Big Cats, however, also reduces the on-campus food options for students who can’t get to the cafeteria before 7 p.m.

To avoid food waste from preparing food ahead of time, the grill at Big Cats shuts down after 9 p.m. After that time, students can only order fried food until the kitchen closes for the night at 10 p.m.

“I feel like I don’t get good protein in after a workout,” said sophomore Eve Dicken, an opposite hitter for the women’s volleyball team. “I usually get a hamburger every time, but when the grill is closed I can’t get one.” 

Sodexo, the company that provides food services at CUC, will launch its new “Everyday App”  for the Spring 2023 semester. The app will allow students to view menus and nutritional information about on-campus dining. The app will also allow users to order ahead from the cafeteria, Starbucks, and Big Cats.

The food service schedule may still receive additional updates throughout the year. “None of these hours are set in stone,” said Budig. “Right now we’re evaluating traffic flows to see where customers are eating and when they’re eating and see what changes we need to make.”