Students opt for fewer meals in dining halls

Following the first month of the campus’ altered dining options, Dining Services is beginning to compile data on dining hall traffic and student meal plan adjustments. Dining Services reported that, after the meal plan change period, which took place from Sept. 20 through Sept. 24, more than 400 fewer students are on the 21-meal plan this semester, compared to last spring.
According to Dining Services, the total number of students on any meal plan has stayed relatively constant. This fall, 1924 total students are on some meal plan, compared to 1972 in Spring 2010. However, Dining Services has seen fluctuation in the meal plans students have chosen, with increases in the five and 10-meal plans and a decrease in the total students on the 21-meal plan.

The number of total students on the 21-meal plan has decreased by 423 – from 1623 in the spring to 1200 this fall. Because first-years are required to be on the 21-meal plan, the fluctuation comes from sophomore, juniors and seniors. Correspondingly, the number of students on the 10-meal plan has increased from 238 to 469. The number of seniors on the five-meal plan has increased from five in the spring to 70 this fall. In addition, the number of students on the 50-meal block plan has increased from 24 to 87. Only seniors are allowed to opt for the five-meal plan and the 50-meal block plan.

Dining Services was unable to provide data for student meal plan choices before Spring 2010, which Vice President for Operations Steve Klass attributed to a change in data software.

According to Dining Services and administrators, it is still unclear whether the changes to the dining system have driven the number of students switching meal plans. “From what I’ve observed, over the course of the past few years, we’ve been seeing a move toward non-frosh being on small plans,” Klass said.

Klass added that it is not unusual for sophomores – all of whom had to be on the 21-meal plan as first-years – to opt for smaller meal plans. He added, however, that the 10-meal plan appears to be more popular with sophomores this fall compared to last spring, with 166 sophomores on the 10-meal plan.

According to Bob Volpi, director of Dining Services, another reason it is difficult to reach a definitive conclusion on the meaning of the numbers is that the number of students on campus is not constant. Volpi cited the number of first-year students and the number of students living abroad and off-campus as factors that can impact meal plans.

Volpi affirmed that the student switch toward smaller meal plans is not altogether new. “We are seeing students switching to a lower meal plan as we do every year in the fall,” he said. “We will continue to review this in the spring to see if in fact this is a trend.”

In recent years, the add-drop period for meal plans has been held earlier in the semester. Volpi said the add-drop period was held later this year as per the request of the College’s Implementation Committee, which has worked to ease the dining transitions. Pushing back add-drop period, Volpi said, gave students time to adjust to dining changes before changing meal plans.

For students, reasons for changing meal plans have varied from convenience to food choice.

“I dropped from 21 meals last year to no meal plan this year,” said Dan Costanza ’11, who lives in a co-op as a senior. “I knew the lines [at dining halls] were going to be too long to justify the amount we pay for food. I can save lot of money cooking for myself. Plus it’s nice as an athlete, as I am not restricted to three meals per day and can ensure my meals meet my nutritional needs.”

For Sara Weber ’11, switching from the 10-meal plan to the five-meal plan was a choice made to maximize the best of both worlds.

“I switched to the five-meal plan because I prefer to eat food from only plant sources, and Dining Services makes this exceedingly difficult,” she said. “With the five-meal plan, I can go to meals at the dining hall to socialize but prepare and eat my own food for most meals while saving over $2000 a year.”
The large shifts in meal plan choice may not continue next semester, Volpi and Abayasinghe said, adding that Dining Services will not know the full impact of the Dodd and Greylock closures until spring meal plan adjustment numbers are factored into the year’s data.

Volpi and Abayasinghe also reported that students tend to increase their meal plans during the second semester.

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