story | Avani Adhikari, Staff Writer
photo | Peh Yi Lin
By the third week of school, Katerina Krasteva ’21 found herself with only nine meal taps left. Turning to Facebook for answers, she met dozens of other students in the same boat. Many students found that the number of meals credited to their account for the semester were running out. In response to these complaints, the Dining Hall Committee, which consists of students, staff, and faculty, conducted an investigation. They found that the problem was due to miscommunication between Sodexo and students, adjustments to the new catering system, and issues with the machines that record meal taps.
According to Calvin Yeo ’20, a member of the Dining Hall Committee, the three meals have always been separated due to their different costs. He said that under SATS Catering Pte Ltd (SATS), Yale-NUS’ dining hall operator until Sodexo took over last semester, students were given extra taps for each meal. However, under Sodexo, the total number of taps students have is equal to the number of meals in a semester.
Yeo added that another problem was the removal of the per-meal tap limits. He said, “In the past, one could tap a maximum of three times a meal, but now it is unlimited.” This means that students can now use a whole semester’s worth of taps in a day if they choose to.
This policy has been in effect since Sodexo started their contract, but its effects have been exacerbated this semester due to the implementation of Grab and Go at Café Agora, a system where students can get packed meals, snacks and drinks in exchange for a meal tap.
For students tapping at Café Agora, this system was especially jarring as taps at 5 pm were being counted as lunch taps. Due to the popularity of the Grab and Go system, students found themselves tapping multiple times a day, not realizing that all the credits came from the taps assigned to their lunch.
Furthermore, according to another member of the Dining Hall Committee, Leanne Tan ’21, “Due to a fault with the card reader at Agora, [some] students were being charged two credits per meal.”
As a result, students like Richard Jo ’22, who used Agora to get a late snack at around 4 pm after lunch at 11 am, found themselves using up to three lunch credits per day. Even students who only used Agora for lunch would use double the amount of credits, resulting in fewer credits overall.
To rectify this, Sodexo has been running audits and restoring people’s taps. When asked about the feasibility of these audits, Assistant Dean of Saga College, Paul Gallagher, said, “the double taps have been easy to identify and those credits had been restored to students’ accounts.”
He added, “If students have questions about their own usage, they can write to ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ with their matriculation number and explain their situation.”
In addition to the audit, Sodexo has adjusted Agora timings to account for a better experience. Richard Ellison, the manager of Sodexo at Yale-NUS, said, “Originally we had timed the reader to deduct a breakfast tap until 10 am and then a lunch tap until closing. Due to the popularity of Café Agora, this has been adjusted and breakfast taps run until 11 am, lunch until 3 pm and then dinner until closing time.”
He added, “Hopefully, this will allow the patrons to budget more effectively throughout the semester.”
The Student Services newsletter from the Dean of Students Office publicized this change, reminding students to “be mindful of this schedule to ensure that you are aligning your Grab and Go meals with the other two daily meals that you are consuming in the dining halls” in order to ensure that the meal taps last to the end of semester.
Yet, for students who found themselves short of taps, there are very few alternatives. “Unfortunately, there is no way for them to get extra taps,” Tan said, “but the top-up of meal taps has been brought forward to February 8 so that they can plan their meals for the whole semester.” However, this is an exception done for this semester and meal taps will still be refilled during recess week for coming semesters.
For Krasteva, life without meal taps has continued regardless. “So far I’ve had a few friends tap for me, and I’ve been going out to eat in Utown with friends as well” she said “I’m also planning to maybe cook my own food in the buttery to minimize losses, since eating out every day is honestly not very sustainable.”