EDITORIAL: Avoid Forking Over for Campus Meal Plans

The past academic year has seen the successful implementation of long-anticipated dining reforms and the promise of further renovations by fall of 2017. However, students continue to skewer Auxiliary Business Services over the limitations of its campus meal plan. The university needs to deliver more than just upgraded menus to appease students whose distaste for Georgetown Dining stems from the program’s financial and procedural inefficiencies.

Thanks largely to the efforts of the Georgetown University Student Association, the dining program’s features include a meal exchange option at Cosi, Hoya Court and Market Pod, reusable to-go containers at O’Donovan Hall and the ability to pre-order meals with the mobile app Tapingo at Aramark locations.

These changes, which resulted from negotiations between GUSA and Georgetown Dining, are only a sample of the measures planned for the debut of the new Georgetown Dining program next fall, which will transform the upper level of Leo’s into a rotating set of dining cafes, reinvent Hoya Court to include more meal exchange options and further expand mobile ordering locations.

Yet while these reforms signify advances in the variety and versatility of campus cuisine, they do little to satiate demands for financially congruous meal options. Despite the increased options, students — especially freshmen and sophomores in residence halls who are obligated to purchase meal plans — experience a value gap as large as $8.67 per meal under the program.

Under the current prices, the $2,726 standard 18 weekly meal plan yields a $9.28 cost per meal, assuming all meal swipes are used every week. But upon closer inspection, the per-meal cost of meal swipes swells with other plans, as the 10 weekly plan and 150 block plan — consisting of 150 meal swipes that can be used as a student wishes — cost $13.79 per meal, the 115 block plan costs $14.44 per meal, the 75 block plan costs $14.51 and the 60 block plan costs $15.27.

Compared to the $6.60 average price of the 6-inch sandwich, chips and beverage combo offered with Subway’s meal exchange program or the $11.86 value of a Taste Two combo at Cosi, an evident chasm emerges between the value of the meal exchange and the price many students must pay for the program.

Moreover, students face further procedural restraints, as they are only permitted one meal swipe from Hoya Court on any given day and cannot use a meal swipe at Elevation Burger, Subway, Salad Creations or Cosi until after 3 p.m.

Freshmen and sophomores who are contractually required to have a meal plan may find this does not provide the most economical option despite the reforms Georgetown has touted in the program.

This is particularly frustrating for students given the paucity of affordable meal options around campus, with Safeway nearly a 20-minute walk away from campus and few restaurants in the affluent Georgetown neighborhood aside from Wingo’s, Sweetgreen and Wisemiller’s Deli from offering food under $10, though admittedly these are not be sustainable for healthy, everyday consumption by students.

Rather than exploit this scarcity of readily available and affordable options surrounding campus with a prohibitive meal exchange program, the university needs to develop ways to ensure parity between the amount of food students pay for and the amount of food students actually receive.
Currently, the GUSA Dining and Auxiliary Services Team, along with other stakeholders in the university’s Dining Committee, are prioritizing issues including healthy eating and structural updates by pushing for dishes labeled with portions and foods groups at Leo’s and developing a centralized dining complaint system.

But Georgetown’s dining reforms also warrant further investigation of the financial viability of meal plans, especially as students could potentially be paying over double the value of their meal exchange per swipe. If the university does not directly equate Hoya Court’s meal exchange value to the price of guest swipes, then at the very least it should be transparent in assuring students comprehend the per-meal value of their dining plan.

Although the university is making tremendous strides in making the variety of dining options more palatable to the student body, without reforming the financial parity of its meal exchange programs, students may find these changes difficult to swallow.

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