Students Commend Dining Changes Despite Value Gaps

FILE PHOTO: ALEXANDER BROWN/THE HOYA The new meal exchange options offered by Aramark this academic year, expanding options for students beyond Leo's, above, have been met with enthusiasm despite discrepancies in pricing.

The new meal exchange options offered by Aramark this academic year, expanding options for students beyond Leo’s, above, have been met with enthusiasm despite discrepancies in pricing.

With Aramark’s new meal exchange policy, students may not receive the actual monetary value of their meal swipes when using them at Hoya Court and Cosi.

Aramark’s dining policy reforms this year saw an increase in food options and added flexibility for meal swipes and have been received positively by students interviewed by The Hoya. However, wait times at dining establishments that offer the meal exchange program have reportedly increased, and questions remain over whether students are receiving the value paid per different exchange swipe.

This year, meal swipes, which were previously only usable at Leo O’Donovan Hall, Einstein Bros. Bagels and the Leavey Center Grab ‘n’ Go, have been expanded to include Elevation Burger, Subway, Salad Creations and Cosi. Students can select between three and five meal combinations from each restaurant, which usually consist of one entree, one side and a beverage.

Though demand is high for the new meal exchange options, students are restricted to using meal exchanges within certain time constraints. Elevation Burger, Subway, Salad Creations and Cosi do not accept exchange options until after 3 p.m. The Leavey Center Grab ‘n’ Go no longer serves dinner this year.

Still, the meal exchange program may not give students good value for their money. The standard 18 weekly meal plan costs $2,726 for a duration of 15 weeks. After subtracting the $220 Flex Dollars that come with the plan, dividing by the 15 weeks, then by the 18 meals per week, the cost per meal comes out to $9.28 — assuming all meal swipes are used every week.

Using the same methodology, the 14 weekly plan costs $11.17 per meal, 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.

When compared to the price equivalents of the food received from a meal swipe, the cost per swipe do not always add up.

For instance, Subway’s meal exchange program includes any 6-inch sub, chips or whole fruit and regular fountain beverage. On its regular menu, this meal costs around $6.60. At Cosi, the first meal exchange option includes taste two — a combo that includes two menu items — and regular fountain beverage, which could be purchased for around $11.86.

Despite the potential cost difference of up to $8.67 per meal, many students — particularly freshmen and sophomores who live in residence halls and are required to purchase meal plans — still appreciate the value in having more options.

Karissa Prayogo (SFS ’20), who has a 14 weekly plan, said she believes she is still getting a good value for her meal swipes.

“Just because I personally don’t eat that much, so all the meals make me full. But I could see why other people would feel like they need more for a meal swipe,” Prayogo said.

The meal exchange program has caused increased traffic to Hoya Court and Cosi, which has resulted in some ingredient shortages as well as longer wait times. The mobile ordering app Tapingo — which has helped reduce waiting times — has shown 30-minute waits for Cosi in the evening on weeknights.

Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Business Services Joelle Wiese said dining staff has adapted well to increased business.

“Operationally, the team went from summer business to a full campus population business volume. We increased staffing to meet the higher business demands, which are now similar to the lunch business volume,” Wiese wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Sinmi Tinubu (MSB ’18), who has a 75 block meal plan, said Tapingo has improved her meal exchange experience.

“The first time I got Elevation Burger and the line was pretty long and then I waited quite a while for my order after that,” Tinubu said. “The second time, I went to Cosi and used Tapingo to order beforehand, which made the wait a lot shorter and much more efficient.”

Students have also had more flexibility with their dining programs with the ability to add extra Flex Dollars to their accounts. Flex Dollars, which are tax-free, can be used at select locations on campus, such as Epicurean and Company and all Students of Georgetown, Inc. locations.

Georgetown Dining has also developed Leo’s To-Go, which allows students to take meals out of Leo’s. Students who registered by Sept. 9 received two tags, which can be exchanged for two to-go boxes. Students can bring the boxes to Leo’s and fill them with as much food as they can.

In the long run, Georgetown University Student Association President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) said Georgetown Dining could have much broader reforms than the ones implemented this year. Both Aramark’s and Sodexo’s proposals for taking over a 10-year dining contract in December are being reviewed.

“We’ve been able to make some great progress, so this is an exciting time. What’s most exciting is that we are in the process of shaping the next 10 years of dining,” Khan said.

Khan said it has been exciting to see the changes implemented and their popularity among students, and hopes to continue to work with Georgetown Dining to make improvements.

“I think [Georgetown Dining] underestimated the popularity and demand of the program, which is why we’re seeing these long wait times. This reflects just how much students care about meal exchange,” Khan said. “Addressing wait times and advocating for popular meal stations at Leo’s are the short-term dining areas we will focus on.”

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