A plea to Dining Services leadership

Because I have three more years here and value my food a great deal, I think the new Dining Services coordinator needs to reevaluate the dining experience here at Williams. There are a number of things about the present organization of Dining Services that need revision.

First, I’ll address the most commonly addressed issue: that students only get $5.15 at the snack bar, but pay over $8 for dinner. Apparently, the reasoning for this is that the dining hall loses money and wastes food when students miss meals. However, this argument doesn’t make any sense. I’m sure that the dining hall has figured out approximately how many people come to eat on various days and at various meals. It is not as though the kitchens make the same amount of food everyday. This assumption means that the dining halls waste the same amount of food everyday, regardless of how many people eat there. If the snack bar points were raised to $8, there would admittedly by a period of time when the dining halls wouldn’t have a good idea of how many people were going to eat there, but this effect is temporary and would happen with any dining hall change.

Now that the reasoning behind this policy has been shown to be faulty, let’s look at the issue again. We pay over $8 for a meal each night, so to give us only $5.15 to spend at the snack bar is simply taking our money. Perhaps the Dining Services administrators have become accustomed to having this unearned revenue taken from students and don’t want to lose it, but that does not make the policy defendable or acceptable. It is very difficult to get a fulfilling dinner at the snack bar for $5.15. Many students are forced to eat at the snack bar because of athletic, academic or social activities. These students should not be forced to spend their own money to get a good meal because dining services wants to skim $3 off their meal.

Another change in Dining Services that would benefit students and cost the College little would be allowing students to use points from missed meals or regular points at local establishments, such as Subway and Pappa Charlie’s. It would be very easy for the College to simply reimburse the establishments mentioned at the end of each month. In fact, Subway asked Williams to allow students to use our cards there only last semester, but the idea was rejected by Dining Services. Once again, the only downside to this program would be the temporary adjustment that the dining halls would have to make in reevaluating the number of students eating there. A huge upside to this change would be that demand for off-campus food establishments would increase significantly. If my Econ 110 course is accurate, supply would eventually fulfill this demand and Williamstown would get some desperately needed new dining options.

These two changes would be very easy to affect and would only cause a short-term problem for the dining halls. Both would benefit students a great deal in their options in dining each night.

By visiting friends at other schools, I have noticed another, more radical option that the new dining coordinator should consider. Instead of putting students on a meal plan, it would be more efficient to simply give students the amount paid for meals on their cards. When the students went to the dining halls, the cards would simply lose $8 (dinner) or $5 (lunch), etc. This would ensure that students get the amount of food for which they pay. I doubt there are many students who eat exactly the number of meals that they have bought each week. Every time a Williams student sleeps through a breakfast or misses a lunch on their meal plan, they waste money. This change would be very easy to implement. The ‘regular points’ on a student’s card could be infused with the amount of money chosen by the student at the beginning of the semester. The scanners at each dining hall would likely only need slight changes to subtract the money right off of the card. The snack bar would not change at all. With this change, no student would be penalized for going away for the weekend, sleeping through breakfast, or missing lunch. It is ridiculous for Dining Services to receive a day’s worth of pay for food that they didn’t provide to an athlete on a team trip or a participant in group activities at other colleges.

At the very least, change the snack bar points up to their proper amount and allow students to use our cards at places in town. These changes are very reasonable and would benefit students a great deal. Also, perhaps we need to take a fresh look at the meal plan system and think about whether this plan is efficient or equitable.