While the Ehinger Center (EC) offers a variety of options that The Commons does not provide, the latter is the superior dining destination at Drew both because of availability of healthy options and payment options.
Although EC has items such as breakfast sandwiches in the morning, a fresh sushi station and Starbucks, it is currently providing fewer healthy food options than in years past. In contrast, The Commons serves everything that the EC does (and more) for a meal swipe, especially when it comes to healthier options. Further, students do not need to spend any points in The Commons (every food served there is available for a meal swipe), unlike at the EC.
When I first started at Drew in 2018, the EC had numerous sandwich options that could be purchased using a meal swipe, such as Italian subs and chicken Caesar wraps. This semester, the menu started with only two sandwiches that qualified for a meal swipe. Thanks to the work of Student Government, this went up to four options. While adding two more sandwiches is an achievement, it still is not enough considering the fact there were even more options three years ago which are now unachievable without using points.
On the other hand, at The Commons you can get any sandwich, with whatever toppings you would like, for a meal swipe. This could be due to the fact that meal swipes are worth between $10-$13 depending on the time of day at The Commons, while a sandwich only costs $7.50 at the EC. However, if you want anything with your sandwich at the EC (like chips or a drink) and are paying with points, those items cost extra and the meal could add up to more than $10-$13. At The Commons, the charge is a flat fee, so you can add sides to your sandwich or even have more than one sandwich without the price change, which is a clear advantage.
Another issue with the EC is that they no longer offer side salads as an option with meals that you can pay for with a swipe. Pre-pandemic, you could choose from french fries, a bag of chips, a piece of fruit and a side salad with your main course. Now that the side salad option has been removed, and the fruit available is often unripe, the only viable options to pair with the main course (mostly greasy, fast-food options like burgers, fried chicken tenders and quesadillas) are processed and/or fried.
The EC does have a salad station with fresh toppings available for a meal swipe, but the lack of side salad options does not allow students to create a balanced meal if they also want something from the grill or deli. While Drew may be trying to save money, prioritizing their budget over student health when it comes to the EC is not the way to go.
This is another area where The Commons has an advantage. Not only is there an unlimited salad station with fresh toppings and a variety of dressings available there, The Commons also typically serves cut up melon and other fresh fruit as an option. Furthermore, The Commons almost always serves fresh roasted or steamed vegetables during each meal time.
The EC is also a less appealing option for students who have dietary restrictions. They are severely lacking in meatless, soy-free and gluten-free options for students to choose from. By removing the side salad option, as well as not having a gluten-free station like The Commons does, the EC mainly caters to students who eat meat and processed foods.
Even worse, the EC does not include ingredient information for most food items. The Commons has begun serving many options such as JustEgg fried rice and mac and cheese made with Daiya cheese that do not contain meat or dairy products to cater to students with dietary restrictions. The Commons also has a menu accessible online to see what will be served along with allergen information. While neither location is perfect in accommodating dietary restrictions, The Commons has come a long way while the EC has only gotten worse.
Don’t get me wrong, the EC makes delicious quesadillas, soups and sushi and I am thankful for the friendly and engaging staff. Dining at the EC is always relaxing and comfortable because the staff is so welcoming and truly cares for the students. But otherwise, The Commons has everything that the EC has for a meal swipe, rather than expecting students to spend points. For students who want to have healthier options, The Commons will remain the superior dining destination until the EC brings back more healthy meal swipe options, particularly more sandwich options, ripe fruit and side salads with entrees.