After enjoying the fine dining on campus for three years, I have cancelled my meal plan. It’s not that I grew tired of campus food — that happened the fall of my freshman year — but rather abrupt policy changes and a decidedly anti-consumer mentality have helped me to realize the low value of the College of William and Mary’s Dining Services. Without notifying its customers, campus dining changed its policy this year, disallowing students to swipe others in under the block meal plans. In years previous, when you bought a certain number of meals, those meals were yours to use. For me, this was the primary appeal of a block meal plan. If friends or family visited, or if a fellow student didn’t have a meal plan, I could swipe them in using my meals. As I had already purchased those meals, it was only logical that I would be free to use them as I pleased.
Although the food is mass produced and uninspired, I enjoy eating at the dining halls. It is far less time consuming than shopping for groceries and cooking at home. The staff is helpful, welcoming and easy to befriend. The best advantage, however, is being able to sit and eat with friends without having to pay on the spot. The Marketplace is by no means a restaurant, but it nonetheless provides its customers a place to socialize. Under the block meal plan, I could continue to enjoy dinners with my friends on campus even though as most of them opted out of meal plans by junior year. Last semester, I purchased a meal plan without being aware of the policy change, and the few meals I used were confined to take-out boxes, since most of my friends had already realized the low value of pre-paid campus dining.
This sudden change is an obvious ploy to make more money. Under the new policy, guests cannot eat at the campus dining halls without paying an outrageous individual fee. To eat a meal at the Commons Dining Hall — even at 3 p.m. on a Sunday, when there is little food to be found — costs more than a dinner at Aroma’s. Given the quality of the meals and the availability of food, the high cost of meal plans is already a huge rip-off. The smallest non-commuter plan of 50 meals and $275 flex dollars costs $799.00. This is a cost of $10.48 per meal, which is only slightly lower than the price at the door. You could get a flatbread pizza and a drink at the Green Leafe Cafe for less. I didn’t have a meal plan because it was a good value. I had it because eating on campus was easy and fun. Getting a box of sub-par food that hasn’t changed in three years is not.
When you purchase a block meal plan, you purchase the meals. There is no clause that says you must use them for yourself. After the dining halls changed their policy, I used around half of my 50 meals. Declaring that I don’t maintain authority over meals I’ve already purchased is not just bad business, it’s entirely unfair. The next time campus dining makes such a huge policy change, it should at least have the decency to notify its customers.
Meal plans are convenient, but they are not valuable. If campus dining wants students to continue buying meal plans, it should raise the quality of its services. Otherwise we can walk the extra steps to Wawa and get four sandwiches for the price of one meal at the Marketplace.