An email sent to all students living on campus next fall included an announcement that took many students by surprise. Starting in the 2015-2016 school year, double meal swipes will not be offered at Cafe Mac.
Double meal swipes have not been a fixture at Cafe Mac for very long.
“Until this year, you couldn’t do multiple meal swipes at all. Last year, we had a group that got together and reviewed the dining options on campus, and we made a number of changes. These changes included adding options at retail locations, expanding hours and adding the ability to use meal swipes at retail locations,” Director of Campus Life Keith Edwards said.
According to Edwards, all of the changes “have gone well,” with the exception of the double meal swipe option.
“We wanted students on the meal plan to have flexibility, but people weren’t using it as flexibility. They were using it to create ‘shadow meal plans’ for people who are not on the meal plan,” Edwards said.
Students may not see bringing a friend into Café Mac once or twice a week as a problem, but when many people on the meal plan do this, it adds up — significantly.
“We were getting 70 to 100 [double meal swipe] people at lunch and dinner every day, and we’ve heard from [older] students that’s it’s been great — they’ve pretty much gotten a meal plan — and that’s not what we want to create,” Edwards said.
The decision was made to add five guest passes per student meal plan that can be used to let families or visitors into Café Mac, in addition to 50 dollars in flex points for plans A, B and C.
“The fifty dollars in flex points allows students a little more flexibility. The 19-meal plan is still the best value, and everything else is a sacrifice in value for something that better meets your needs. The rationale was that we hadn’t increased the flex for years, and since the meal plan price goes up three percent per year, we are basically accounting for inflation,” Edwards said.
More changes that were included in the same email to students using the meal plan next year include reducing the price of the Commuter 75 plan to 675 dollars, and the addition of a new meal plan, Plan E.
“Plan E is 150 meals per semester, at 250 dollars less than the full meal plan per semester, and will be available to juniors and seniors only. We wanted to offer them an option and provide an incentive for students to live on campus and give them support and resources,” Edwards said.
A common belief on campus is that Bon Appetit bases its business model on students not using all of their meals in a given week, and there is a grain of truth to this conjecture.
“We assume that if you have a 19-meal plan, you won’t use all of them. We want students to have have flexibility. That’s what we want for people who are on the meal plan. Double meal swipes drive up the costs for Cafe Mac, which drives up the cost for everybody’s meal plan,” Edwards said.
Edwards addressed student concerns about the perceived high cost of Cafe Mac, compared to other options. The cost of a meal plan is another oft-repeated gripe repeated by students is that “Bon Appetit takes all of our money” or otherwise cheat students.
“What it costs Bon Appetit for you to eat in Cafe Mac is way cheaper than anything you can ever get at the Grille. If you order a turkey buyer at the grill, it takes a lot of time to prepare, versus getting three plates of food on the other side. Their labor costs are dramatically different–if it were up to Bon Appetit, everybody would eat in Cafe Mac, because the retail locations all cost them money. We’ve asked that they keep those open for variety and convenience for students,” Edwards said.
What’s more, the money that students pay for their plan does not go only to Bon Appetit.
“You’re not just paying Bon Appetit; you’re also paying the college” Edwards said. “It’s kinda like owning a restaurant, and we’re paying Bon Appetit to buy the food and cook it. About 60 of what you pay in a meal plan goes to Bon Appetit, and 40 percent goes to college to pay for overhead and maintenance. There are two separate conversations—what Bon Appetit charges the college, which is an arrangement between us and Bon Appetit, and what the college charges for the meal plan,” Edwards said.
The removal of the double-swipe option will be a major adjustment for a good number of students, but Edwards emphasized that the college cares about student access and usage.
“What we want is people to make as much use of their meal plan as possible, but what we don’t want is students, every day, bringing in someone who’s never paid.”