Students gravitate toward higher meal plans

Following the Sept. 16 deadline to drop or change meal plans, 110 more students opted for higher meal plans compared to last year. Eighty-two more students chose the 21-meal plan and 37 more chose the 14-meal plan, while fewer students selected the 10 or 5-meal plans than last year. In contrast, last fall the number of students on the 10- and 5-meal plans both saw an increase, from 238 to 473 students and five to 71 students respectively.

Vice President of Campus Life Steve Klass expressed optimism about this year’s numbers: “We haven’t bounced back to our highest of highs in terms of the number of people enrolled in the 21- and 14-meal plans,” Klass said, “but we are back to the median of our recent historic high points in terms of students subscribing to larger meal plans.”

Four hundred and forty-four students switched their Dining Services meal plans using PeopleSoft, a new meal drop/add procedure that is in place for the first time this fall. In the past, Dining Services required students to go to its Droppers House office at specific times during add/drop period to change their plans. Dining Services made the switch because PeopleSoft allows students to adjust their meal plans online at their convenience. Students were able to change their plans during the summer through last week’s deadline. Director of Dining Services Bob Volpi said the implementation of PeopleSoft “allowed students to think about what plan would be best for them.”

Following last year’s closing of the Dodd and Greylock dining halls, the number of students on higher meal plans dipped. According to Volpi, Dining Services is “really pleased” to see that decrease make a turnaround as word spread about the quality of options still available.

Currently, 1275 students are on the 21-meal plan, which costs $5590 per year; 135 are on the 14-meal plan at $5220 per year; 417 are on the 10-meal plan at $4270 per year; and 57 are on the 5-meal plan costing $2260.

Meals can be redeemed at any mealtime at any dining location. All resident students must purchase the 21, 14 or 10-meal plans, and all first-years still must purchase the 21-meal plan. Off-campus or co-op students may purchase a block of 50 meals for $685 as needed throughout the year; 29 students have elected this option so far this fall.

Assistant Director of Student Dining Chris Abayasinghe said he believes that students’ meal plan choices may reflect the “realization that the best value is the 21-meal plan in cost per meal.”

Fifty-three percent of meals are eaten in Paresky, including Whitmans’, ’82 Grill, Late Night and Grab ’n Go, whereas 22 percent are eaten in Mission Park, 15 percent in Driscoll, 5 percent at Eco Café and 3 percent in Goodrich Coffee Bar. Mission Park and Whitman’s, the two biggest dining halls on campus, see on average 1101 and 1213 students, respectively, every day.

Last year, Whitmans’ and Mission Park absorbed most of the meals previously eaten in Dodd and Greylock. This year, their patronage has increased by 8 and 6 percent, respectively.

“Mission is doing significantly larger counts, which is something we challenged ourselves to achieve programmatically – for example, it is regularly competing at dinner with Whitmans’,” Klass said. “We are really proud of what we’ve achieved.”

Although pleased with the major changes made over a year ago now, Volpi and Abayasinghe said that Dining Services constantly seeks ways to enhance the dining experience at the College. They said this year brings a commitment to local foods and eco-friendly practices. Suppliers in neighboring Vermont now provide the flour used in the ’82 Grill pizza crust, the new all-natural dressings, the tofu and some cheeses.

Abayasinghe added that Dining Services has examined its ethnic food lines and been working with students on Meatless Mondays, a vegetarian initiative that began in Driscoll last year.

How to raise awareness of Meatless Mondays was one of the topics discussed at this year’s first Student Food Committee meeting on Sept. 20. Nutritionist Maria Cruz also discussed developing healthier options and food allergen awareness at the meeting. Other topics on the agenda included the success of the new salad dressings and local ingredients, eco-friendly to-go containers, potential macaroni and cheese at Late Night and ideas to shorten dinner lines.

Abayasinghe and Volpi said Dining Services works closely with students to maximize satisfaction with dining options. The Student Food Committee meets once a month and reports to College Council (CC). Its members, which Abayasinghe described as “essentially nominated by CC,” serve two-year terms.

Kalila Booker-Cassano ’14 said that she joined the committee to have a hand in student life. “The dining halls are where we eat every day, [at least] most of us, anyway,” she said. “And I think it is important that we work with Dining Services to make both the food and the experience of eating in a dining hall the best they can be.”

“Overall we are thrilled,” Klass said. “Having more students sharing more meals together is a fundamental community-building aspect of campus life. The more people who are eating more meals, the more we are able to do … in terms of choice, quality and creativity. Success builds on itself.”