Hungry for more options: Meal plan choices are far from gold

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April 11, 2011

10:35 PM

Campus dining has an interesting relationship with many students here at the College of William and Mary. I believe this connection is best summed up in one phrase: can’t live with it, can’t live without it. The quality of the cuisine has been the butt of endless jokes, yet people keep coming back for more. I place myself in this category purely based on the convenience factor. I am already busy enough without having to worry about preparing my own meals, and grocery shopping and cooking would only put me under more stress.

Just to clarify, this article is not going to be a drawn-out criticism of the quality of the food here. In fact, I believe Dining Services does a decent job providing relatively good food and a variety of meal options. Personally, I actually eat healthier here because the salad and fruit are so readily available. I can quickly throw together a salad with a variety of vegetables in it. If one compares the quality of the food with that of other college campus dining facilities, the College is toward the top of the list, especially breakfast at the Marketplace, which I say is probably the best breakfast food you can get for a meal swipe.

My grievance has more to do with the flexibility of the dining options than how the food tastes. I am currently on the Gold 14 meal plan, which just started allowing students to use two meal swipes per meal zone. Dining Services advertised this new feature as if it were some wonderful addition to my meal plan. To me, the idea of a designated meal period is absurd. Not everyone operates on the same schedule, especially with different class and meeting times. This is just an unnecessary restriction placed upon students’ access to meals.

Beyond controlling mealtimes despite differing daily routines and schedules, restricting students to a specific number of meals per week and not rolling the unused meals over to the next week is just another example of campus dining flexing its monopolistic muscles. Excuse my accounting digression, but when a company is paid in advance for a service such as a meal plan, the transaction is recorded as a liability because the customer has given cash and is entitled to the service. I cannot think of another example in which a company is allowed to just cancel part of your order if you have paid up front for the good or service. Every meal plan should operate as a block, which permits students to access their meals at any time and during any week.

Yes, the College offers block meal plans. The largest block, however, gives you about eight meals per week. The available plans do not offer any middle ground. I am either stuck with to eight meals a week or with the restrictive Gold 14 plan. This dilemma would not exist if all meal plans were simply block-based.
The campus meal plans are mired in purposeless regulations. Meal zoning seems all too appropriate in the backdrop of Williamsburg, which also enjoys restricting student housing and noise levels. Moving toward a more simplified meal plan system would probably make campus dining more appealing to those students who have dropped their meal plans.

I figured I would finally speak up regarding a matter about which I have heard countless people complain. It might seem hypocritical to criticize the system when I subscribe to a meal plan myself and when I will continue to do so whether or not dining options are changed. These are just some suggestions for keeping customers satisfied. In the end, Dining Services is a business, and it is important that it continually looks for creative and new ways to better satisfy its customers — the students at the College.

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