Meal equivalency glitch quickly corrected

A recent glitch in the software system provider used by Dining Services caused a slight confusion for students following their return to campus after spring break. Many students found that they were not able to swipe at Late Night in Whitmans’ or the ’82 Grill, even if they had not eaten a total of three meals already that day. This glitch has since been corrected.
Since the beginning of the academic year, students have been able to eat any three meals during the day without restriction as to when those meals were eaten. This change was instituted in September, along with many other changes made within Dining Services at the start of the year including the closure of Dodd and Greylock dining halls, the extension of hours during which meals were served at the College’s remaining dining halls and the addition of various food items to the menus.
“Along with various upgrades made across the [dining] program, we saw this additional flexibility as another way in which we could improve this year overall in our whole program,” said Bob Volpi, director of Dining Services. “We wanted to offer the best service this year.” Volpi said that some benefits to the change include less traffic at mealtimes and greater time windows for students to swipe for meals.
“Once the [software] system switched [on] April 3, students suddenly noticed that they could only use their dinner meal swipe during late night hours, even if they hadn’t eaten a total of three meals already that day,” Volpi said. “Students expressed concerns to us that led us to review the system history.”
During that review of the software system provider, called CBORD, Dining Services discovered that a recent software patch reverted the system to the way it has worked in past years, limiting students to one meal in each of the three “periods” of breakfast, lunch and the combined dinner and late night period.
“Every now and then upgrades are performed on our system,” Volpi said, explaining that this most recent upgrade “mistakenly reset the system to last year’s rules regarding when meals were available to students relative to the meals they’d already eaten throughout the day.” Specifically, the glitch was rooted in the system’s definition tables, which keep track of student meal swipes and meal availability. These definition tables reverted to only allowing students to swipe up to three times in one day and only once in each period, as was the case last year.
According to Volpi, the system error was discovered on Friday and has since been corrected. Now students on the 21-meal plan are again able to swipe up to four times in one day, including being able to swipe for both dinner and late night.
“This is something that fits within our budget this year,” Volpi said about the change in dining policy. He explained that because the average number of swipes per week for a student on the 21-meal plan is only 18, and only those students on the 21-meal plan are allowed to make use of the more generous swipe allowance, the College is not losing money on allowing these students to swipe up to four times in a day, for all of their allotted meal points are often not used within a given week.
“I’m encouraged to hear that [Dining Services’] reasoning for allowing people to swipe four times a day is because the average number of meals used [by students on the 21-meal plan] was only 18. I’ve always thought that the 21-meal plan punished those who skipped meals,” Steve Rubin ’11 said, noting that the actual current policy in fact implies the opposite.
Volpi said that he and other staff in Dining Services have seen positive feedback from students on the Food Committee as to this year’s changed system.
“I think people are pleased at having this as an option, and it provides a great service to our students,” he said.
Patrick Lin ’13 said he has found this year’s swipe system much more convenient. “I’m still eating three meals a day,” said Lin, who explained that because he often skips breakfast and is hungry at night, it makes sense to swipe for lunch, dinner and late night. Lin recalled that last year, as he was not able to swipe for both dinner and late night in the same day, he sometimes resorted to buying late night food with cash, something he no longer has to do.
“The change was clearly good,” Lin said. “I’m happy to hear the ‘new’ system has been restored.”

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