As I near the end of my first quarter at Northwestern, I can say with confidence that campus’s biggest gift has been Shake Smart, 2023’s newest addition to Norris.

Being a first-year, I’m automatically enrolled in Northwestern’s Open Access Meal Plan, which includes unlimited swipes at all dining halls, and most treasured of all, five meal exchanges per week.

On average, I spend three of my weekly meal exchanges at Shake Smart. One swipe gets me a shake or açai bowl and a peanut butter sandwich. It’s a sweet, fun and fueling breakfast – and with over 25 different options on the menu, you can mix and match your order up every time. As a Californian, my “raw-pb” açai bowl gives me a taste of home, energizing me to take on Evanston’s cold, windy mornings.

The only deterrent to going to Shake Smart is their confusing hours. Despite being open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the smoothie house only offers meal exchanges between the hours of 8 and 11 a.m. and 2 and 4 p.m. As a result, wait times can reach upwards of 40 minutes, especially during the hour before each window closes. Occasionally, the line can even wrap around the store.

Let’s be honest, no one is going to Shake Smart to purchase anything out-of-pocket. Their smoothies and bowls, albeit delicious, all range from $7 to $10. In fact, Shake Smart cashiers automatically assume you’re paying with a meal exchange – “that’ll be $8.95” is usually replaced with “tap your card.”

Shake Smart at 1 p.m. (left) and at 3:30 p.m. (right). Photos by Esther Lian / North by Northwestern

We may not be able to reason this evil three-hour meal exchange gap – but we can work around it. Here are my tips for surviving Shake Smart:

1. Avoid rush hour – AT ALL COSTS!

Do not visit Shake Smart between the hours of 10 and 11 a.m. and 3 and 4 p.m. During these hours, sandwiches frequently run out. Some students even sit down while waiting in line, reminiscent of the Space Mountain line at Disneyland. It’s depressing.

2. Shake Smart mornings are sweeter than afternoons.

As long as you arrive before 9:30 a.m., you’re practically guaranteed to get your sweet treat in under 15 minutes. Plus, Norris is one of the most quiet and comfortable spots for a morning study session.

3. If you’re on-the-go, remember to grab some extra napkins.

Often sweetened with fruit juices and sticky agave,  shakes and bowls can leave some pretty lethal stains on your belongings. Also, if you’re headed to a lecture with those tiny flip-up side tables, place your snack on the floor. Trust me. (I once accidentally knocked a shake onto the floor of the central pathway in a crowded lecture hall. I had no napkins on hand. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my life, and I still think about it sometimes.)

4. You don’t need an açai bowl after your 2-3:20 p.m. class.

If you’re unwilling to hand over 40 minutes of your life in line, do not take up your friend’s offer to hit Shake Smart. Instead, treat yourself to a boba from Chicken and Boba (surprisingly not bad!) or grab one of Allison’s luscious oatmeal raisin cookies.

5. If you desperately need a rush-hour snack but would like to save time, order a raw açai bowl.

Shake Smart typically gets more orders for milkshakes than açai bowls and has a limited number of blenders, so choosing a milkshake or a blended bowl can increase your wait time. Raw bowls simply require scooped açai, so they tend to be the quickest to appear on the collection table.

With these tips and tricks and a sprinkle of good time management, you can ensure that your Shake Smart experience is sweet and efficient. Grab a spoon, try a new flavor (I recommend the “banana split” shake!) and give those Shake Smart workers a well-deserved smile. Happy snacking!