It’s a normal Tuesday, around noon, and 36 high schoolers are headed down to the MP Room to get their lunches from Noodles and Company.
And like always there’s a line of lower-, middle- and high-school students that trails out the door and snakes along the outside wall to the end of the building.
That’s why 66 percent of those students said they were either “dissatisfied” or “highly dissatisfied” with the lunch service on Tuesdays, in a Dec. 13 Octagon poll distributed to 116 high-school students.
Senior Quin LaComb is one of them.
“It’s not the lunch that displeases me,” LaComb said.
“It’s the manner of distribution that is the problem.
“It takes a long time, so if there is ever a (Tuesday) when I have to do something at lunch or I am hungry, it becomes a big problem.”
In that same poll, two-thirds of the students who ordered lunch on Tuesdays also said that they waited 5-10 minutes to receive lunch. And 24 percent said they waited over 10 minutes.
The problem may be the time it takes to serve Noodles and Company meals.
“Bill (Crabb) and I can only serve so fast,” said Jennifer Adams, lunch program manager.
On Tuesdays, the lunch is served by hand. Adams and Crabb serve each student from large pans. On other days the meals come pre-packaged and have the students’ names on them.
But wait time is not the only problem on Tuesdays.
“It annoys me when I have free period before lunch and I want to go get my lunch early, but I can’t,” freshman Larkin Barnard-Bahn said.
On Tuesdays, high schoolers are not allowed to get in line to pick up their lunches until 12:05 p.m.
High schoolers have to wait because the lower and middle schoolers are supposed to eat first, as their lunch time starts earlier (11:55 a.m.), according to band director Bob Ratcliff, who monitors the lunch line on Tuesdays.
But even after 12:05 p.m., lower and middle schoolers continue to enter the lunch line in front of high schoolers.
“It annoys me when a crowd of middle schoolers goes in front of me after I have been waiting for five minutes to get my lunch,” Barnard-Bahn said.
Some days there are even two lunch lines: one for the lower schoolers and another for middle and high schoolers, with the lower-school line getting priority.
“I think the problem is that there are two lines, and some people cut in line, which extends the wait time,” freshman Jackson Margolis said.
Moreover high-school students have days on which they don’t get the food they ordered at the beginning of the month because there isn’t any left when they reach the front of the line.
“When I didn’t get my macaroni and cheese in November, I had to get butter noodles instead, which I didn’t want,” sophomore Nate Jakobs said.
The cost of the meal for high and middle schoolers is $7 per entree (or $28 a month) if a student orders only on one day, which is why he is angry, Jakobs said.
Some high schoolers attribute the lack of food to students changing their order in line.
“Some people say they ordered one thing (macaroni and cheese), but they actually ordered another (spaghetti),” Margolis said.
But Adams attributes the shortage to portion size.
“The problem is that we order a set amount of food from Noodles and Company every month based on how many kids have ordered,” she said.
“But some days, some kids come in really hungry, wanting more food, while on others, they want less.
“We then have to try and balance the amount of food that we order because we don’t want too much or too little.”
Adams reports that in the month of December she ordered more food, leading to everyone receiving their ordered lunches.
So what’s the solution?
Barnard-Bahn suggested that high schoolers should be allowed to get lunch at any time.
“We aren’t going to trample any little kids,” she said.
Jakobs agreed with Barnard-Bahn but also suggested that that the school order more food to avoid shortage problems.
LaComb had a different idea.
“My suggestion would be prepared lunches with names and sizes,” he said.
And Margolis agreed.
“Just put the food in boxes and there will be no problems,” Margolis said.
“There aren’t any problems on other days, so Tuesdays should be just like them.”
And Margolis is right. All the other lunch days run smoothly.
Adams attributes the lack of conflict to the pre-packaged lunches on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and the ease and speed of handing out pizza on Friday.
So she plans to introduce packaged lunches on Tuesdays for the month of February.
“We already do it for the lower school, so why not try it for the rest of the school?” Adams said.
Adams said the only reason prepackaged lunches from Noodles and Company were not introduced at the beginning of the program was portion size.
“On some days, students come in wanting a lot of pasta,” Adams said.
“But Noodles and Company has a smaller portion size (10-12 ounces), so I was originally worried that people would complain about the amount of food.
“Now that there are other problems, I think we should try the prepackaged lunches in February and see how it goes.
“The lunches would stay warmer, too!”
—By Jack Christian