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Navigating Clark Dining

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Clark may only have three on-campus dining options (the Caf, the Bistro, and Jazzman’s), but navigating them once meal plans, swaps, and Dining Dollars come into play can get confusing. To save you from the confusion I experienced as a first-year, here’s what you need to know to have a painless dining experience.

Meals in the Caf

The Caf (officially called the Higgins Cafeteria, but no one  calls it that) is the hub of Clark dining life. It is open 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. on the weekend. If you have either the All Access or the All Access PLUS meal plans, the idea is that you can eat here as many times a day/week as you’d like.

If you have one of the 15, 12, or 10 meal plans, you can go to the Caf that many times per week (Monday through Sunday). For these meal plans, meals reset every Monday. This is the basic outline of your meal plan options as a first-year – other plans become available as you get older and switch dorms. But then swaps come in and screw it all up.

TIP: The Caf is busiest at 1:15 p.m. on weekdays, which is when a ton of classes get out, as well as around dinner time, anywhere from 6 -7 p.m.  If you’re going with a big group around those times, it might be hard to find a place to sit. Although, if you keep circling the room, a table will eventually open up.


There are certain food items at the Bistro that are “swaptions” (swap + option = swaption). This means that they are available for swapping.

A swap consists of one “main course” (usually a grill item, half sandwich, salad, or something from the “Global Spices” section); one snack (chips, cookies, or fruit); and one drink.

The reason it’s called a swap is because you’re swapping a meal at the Caf for a meal you’ve concocted for yourself at the Bistro.

Swaps are helpful when you want to eat quickly or when you want to take something to go. The one sucky thing is that you’re not allowed to swap for more than one snack, main course, or drink at a time. So you couldn’t swap for a banana and a bag of chips at once because they’re both considered snacks.

Things that you can swap for have “available for swap” or “swaption” written on their sign. If it doesn’t say that, you can’t swap for it.

There are certain times of day that the Bistro designates as breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you can only swap once during each of these times. On weekdays, breakfast is 8 a.m. – 10:59 a.m., lunch is 11 a.m. – 3:59 p.m. (don’t ask me why it’s so long), and dinner is 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. On weekends, brunch is 8:30 a.m. – 3:59 p.m. (this is the first year they’re opening the Bistro early on weekends!) and dinner is 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. After 9 you can’t swap anymore, although the Bistro is open until 2:30 a.m. every day.

Notice that swaps are still available for an hour after the Caf closes, so if you can’t make it to the Caf by 8 you can always swap instead.

One of the things that people are perpetually confused about when it comes to swaps is whether you can swap at the Bistro and the Caf during the same meal period.

If you have the All Access plan, then the answer is no – you’re not allowed to swap at the Bistro and go to the Caf in the same meal period. They changed this policy last year and added the All Access PLUS plan for an additional $300 per semester that allows you to go to the Caf and swap at the Bistro in the same meal period.

However, If you have the 15, 12, or 10 meal plan,you are allowed to swap even if you went to the Caf in the same meal period, but you can still only swap at the Bistro once per meal period.Just keep in mind that a swap counts as one of your meals for the week. So if you have 12 meals left for the week and you swap at the Bistro, you will then only have 11 meals left.

TIP: Don’t let your meals go to waste!! If you have three unused meals left on Sunday at 11:59 p.m., they will not carry over to the next week – they will disappear forever. So if you have extra meals at the end of the week, swap for chips or cookies or something and keep them in your room for when you get hungry. You’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to waste Dining Dollars buying snacks.

Dining Dollars

Depending on which meal plan you have, you get a certain amount of Dining Dollars per semester. Dining Dollars are just what they sound like – money to spend on food. You can use them to buy anything at the Bistro or at Jazzman’s, which is the café in the AC. Remaining Dining Dollars will carry over from fall semester to spring semester as long as you stay on a meal plan.

TIP: Dining Dollars go way more quickly than you’d think, so use them wisely! You don’t want to end up with fifty cents left three weeks into the semester.

Committing these rules to memory will definitely take some time. Don’t worry about it. We’ve all been there.


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Navigating Clark Dining