Slicing & dicing the complexities of Dining Services

Caroline Fassett, Investigative News Editor

While Dining Services has been largely successful in presenting students with  numerous meal options served at a variety of on-campus locations, individual misconceptions and frustrations regarding University meals and assorted meal plans have long existed throughout the student body. The Bucknellian met with Dining Services in an attempt to better understand the array of dining-related subjects, specifically those listed below:

Resident students’ meal plan requirement

Sophomore, junior, and senior resident students must select one of the offered University Dining plan options, and many select the most inexpensive of them, the $700 Dining Dollar plan.

The meal plan requirement is partly instituted as a means of uniting the campus community and ensuring their food security, General Manager of Resident Dining John Cummins said.

“[Required meal plans] allow students to come together as a community, and they’re supposed to be fulfilling. We want individuals to feel secure and safe by providing them with food options,” Cummins said.

Director of Business Services Lori Wilson said that when the $700 Dining Dollar plan was constructed back in 2005, $6.00 was close to the amount of a typical meal. Given that the average semester is approximately 115 days long, this meal plan enables students to spend roughly six Dining Dollars a day, thereby encouraging them to utilize other outlets like kitchens and/or restaurants as a means of self-sustenance.

“If you want a bigger meal, you can select a bigger plan,” Wilson said.

Besides the Anytime Access Plans and $700 Dining Dollars Plan, students can purchase a $1,000 or a $1,300 per semester Dining Dollar plan. They can also select a Combo plan, which combines swipe access to the Bostwick Marketplace and Terrace Room with Dining Dollars and ranges from $745 to $1,990 in price per semester.

“The variety of plans offered models higher education dining; it’s all about not having students worry about food. We especially want to cocoon the newer students, the incoming first-years, in a sense,” Cummins said.

First-years’ Anytime Access meal plan requirement

All first-year students are obligated to purchase either an Anytime Access plan or an Anytime Access Plus plan, both of which provide students with bottomless swipes to the Bostwick Marketplace and Terrace Room and a finite number of Dining Dollars; they cost $2,469 and $2,694 per semester, respectively.

“The philosophy behind the Anytime Access meal plan [being a requirement for first-year students] is that we know students are still learning how to adapt to their roommates, their classes, and they have a lot to deal with. The thought pattern is that these students won’t have to worry about where they get their meals from,” University Dining Services District Manager Dave Freeland said.

Cummins said that he’s aware of many universities that fail to offer unlimited entries into their cafeterias, only allotting students a certain amount of time to sit and eat.

“Meal plans are supposed to be helpful; first-year students shouldn’t have to put much thought into how they are going to feed themselves,” Cummins said.

Peter Trousdale ’20 expressed his particular satisfaction with the Anytime Access Meal Plan, explaining that “especially since freshmen aren’t able to have a car, it’s important to have an unlimited source of food. This meal plan allows me to focus on aspects of school rather than on how I’m going to pay for my next meal.”

Wilson added that first-year students tend to live in dormitories that don’t provide them with kitchens where they could prepare their own meals, so their obligated attachment to the Anytime Access Plan is a rational concept.

Expenses of meals and snacks

Yet some students who no longer utilize the Anytime Access Meal Plan expressed confusion regarding why they are permitted to swipe to enter Bostwick Marketplace and remain there for hours without having to continually pay for meals they consume yet are required to pay for any food they request to take out of the cafeteria.

“I was under the impression the caf was all-you-can-eat. It doesn’t make sense that I can eat however much I want if I sit in Bostwick all day, but I have to pay if I want to take any food out,” Juliet King ’18 said.

Cummins said that this payment process is constructed around the concept that students are supposed to pay for one take-out meal per meal period in the day.

“There have to be some parameters. We don’t limit the time that students are allowed to spend in Bostwick, but requiring them to swipe for each take-out meal is part of the modifications of the program. In order for the system to work, tracking how many people come in and what they’re taking out is paramount,” Cummins said.

Many students who eat outside of Bostwick and the Terrace Room perceive the healthier food offered on campus—from locations like Bison Fresh or  Bada Basil, both found in the Bison Café—to be pricier than other options provided and have expressed their frustration with the escalated costs.

“Food is too expensive here, generally, and healthier food is significantly more expensive than unhealthy food. It’s unfair to students who are in financial need and can’t really afford to spend $10 or more for every meal,” Erin Clark ’18 said.

Cummins stated that some but not all healthier options “innately and naturally have greater costs.”

“We are cognizant about the prices, but it’s about making sure you have healthy options, embracing new diets. Fruits are pricey because they are seasonal; they are commodities whose prices change based on demand. Honeydew and cantaloupe are not as demanded, so they’re not as costly. Meanwhile, strawberries and kiwi are cost prohibitive,” Cummins said.

In creating healthier options, Cummins, Wilson, and Freeland said that they also attempt to take into account students’ fiscal limitations.

“In forming the chop salad station, we understood that students weren’t happy that the cost of salads in the Bison might be so high because the price is based on how much they weigh. [In contrast,] the chopped salads at the Commons have fixed prices; they only differ if students add protein to them,” Freeland said.

Freeland said that he hopes that students educate themselves about the extensiveness and logistics of the various meal plans.

“Some individuals who potentially might want to have more access [to Bostwick] may see more value in Combo or Anytime Access Meal Plans … people often misconstrue that items cost too much, but in actuality they just need to take advantage of other plans which are of better value to them,” Freeland said.

Lack of sorority-oriented meal plans

In joining a fraternity, male students are given the opportunity to exchange their current meal plan for their fraternity’s meal plan, wherein they receive and eat meals at their respective fraternity houses.

“The fraternity meal plans fall within the parameters [of the fact] that everyone must have some sort of plan that ensures that students are safely fed and helped,” Cummins said.

The same meal plan alternative is not offered to female students who join sororities.

“I kind of wish sororities had their own meal plan, even though I don’t know where it would take place. At the same time, I’m not sure if guys like eating at fraternity houses, which seem pretty out of the way,” Amy Dowden ’19 said.

Cummins, Freeland, and Wilson explained that these meal plans are not offered for sorority members largely because they don’t have their own houses at which they can dine. Cummins added that he perceives the Terrace Room as a popular dining place where female sorority members tend to assemble.

“The Terrace Room is a place where sorority women can break bread and congregate. I think that they particularly like it because it is absent of the grill and pizza options, so the choices offered appear to be healthier,” said Cummins.

Student ability to instigate change

Cummins expressed his desire that students know that they can evoke change among Dining Services. He specifically suggested that concerned or interested individuals join the Student Dining Community, a group of students who collaborate with Dining Services to create better dining experiences for the entire student body.

“Student involvement is welcomed and accepted. We want to be a conduit; we want to be accessible to all,” Cummins said.

Wilson discussed how, just last year, Dining Services responded to students who were dissatisfied that the lowest number of swipes offered by the various Combo plans was 35.  Dining Services has since instituted a Combo meal plan that offers only 15 swipes, catering to students who only dine in the cafeteria for occasional or special purposes. Wilson said that this meal plan is currently the most popular Combo plan among students.

“Students can make connections with us, and through doing that can help to make [the dining areas on campus] better places for everyone,” Wilson said.

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