OPINION: The new meal plans suck

OPINION%3A+The+new+meal+plans+suck

Nadine Jallal, Associate Opinion Editor

App State has taken the first steps to change how Campus Dining and meal plans work for the 2022-23 year. As opposed to the a la carte system Campus Dining has used for years, the new system employs the usage of meal swipes and All You Care To Eat venues. 

Last year’s a la carte system was paired with meal plans ranging from the “low” option priced at $1,124 to the “super” option priced at $2,043. The standard meal plan freshmen were required to purchase was priced at $1,446. The previous plans operated as a running balance students could use in every campus dining venue on campus, including the markets. 

This year, all meal plans come with a variety of meal swipes and dining dollars. The bulk of the meal plan is used for meal swipes students can use at two All You Care To Eat Locations: Rivers Street Cafe in Roess Dining Hall and Park Place at the Pond in Trivette Hall. Each meal plan comes with an arguably small amount of dining dollars students can use at the rest of campus dining venues such as Sanford Commons, Cascades Cafe, all coffee shops on campus, the markets, McAlister’s, vending machines and food trucks. Making the bulk of dining venues on campus only accessible through dining dollars makes no sense.

As App State’s campus comes back to life with the start of a new semester, the disadvantages and shortcomings of the new meal plans are hard to ignore. The meal plans freshmen are required to purchase, the All Access 7 or Weekly 14, are priced at $2,680 or $2,314, approximately $1,000 more expensive than the standard meal plan for freshmen last year. 

The new meal plans do not offer the same flexibility as the previous plans because they are heavily reliant on students using All You Care To Eat Locations as opposed to every other campus dining venue. Sure, the highest meal plan comes with unlimited swipes, but it only comes with $250 dining dollars. If students don’t have the time to sit and eat at an All You Care To Eat Location, they will opt to use their dining dollars at another venue. However, a sandwich from Sanford Commons costs at least $7, so dining dollars are bound to run out quickly. Students should not be paying $1,000 more for a meal plan just to run out of the currency used at the majority of campus dining venues quicker than they would have last year.

The prices at dining dollar venues will facilitate running out of dining dollars long before the end of the semester. Grabbing a coffee from Crossroads could cost anywhere between $5-$8, especially if students want to add flavors or alternative milks in their coffee. Grabbing a smoothie from Cascades could also cost anywhere between $5-$9, especially if students add a protein boost or chia seeds. Students are being forced to buy expensive meal plans offering less options and less flexibility than the last few years with Campus Dining. If a student is paying $2,680 for a meal plan, they should be able to choose if they want to spend the bulk of it on coffee or food. Making the meal swipes the main focus of every meal plan, especially to only two possible venues, is unfair and is incredibly restricting.

Last year, you could carry-out anything bought from any campus dining venue. This year, Campus Dining is making carry-out especially difficult in All You Care To Eat Locations. Rivers Street Cafe has alarms on the doors in the dining area to stop students from leaving the venue once they have swiped in. 

My friends and I have experienced a new policy in All You Care To Eat Locations that is not clear nor in writing on Campus Dining’s website. For example, we were able to request a to-go box upon entering the venue, however, we had to use two swipes and our App Cards were subsequently locked for six hours. Having an unwritten policy enforced during our visit was unfair and left us in shock.

Students who are grabbing food to-go in order to make it to their next class/time-commitment are being punished and wasting two meal swipes when they are only grabbing one meal. If students feel like they are being punished for their time commitments and class times, they could adopt unhealthy eating habits or be encouraged to skip meals if they can’t have them as carry-out without using two swipes. Those students are going to favor dining dollar venues due to their flexibility with requesting carry-out, but they will run out of dining dollars quicker and be back in the same boat with the All You Care To Eat Locations’ restrictions.

Due to the meal plans relying heavily on All You Care To Eat Locations, both locations have been packed throughout the first week of classes. Students are having to set aside at least an hour of time to effectively eat at an All You Care To Eat Location. 

I have experienced long lines waiting to swipe into each location as well as long lines to grab my food. Much to my disappointment, once I waited in those long lines, I saw that a lot of the dining options in each station were out of certain sides, entrees, plates, cups, utensils, sauces, etc. Not to mention, the lack of cleanliness at self-serve stations and dining areas. 

However, none of these issues are at the fault of Campus Dining employees. They are hard at work trying to provide students with a good dining experience by refilling food and cleaning as much as they can. The high volume of students seems to be too much to handle and sustain throughout the day, thus creating unclean and ineffective dining experiences despite their best efforts. If Campus Dining was expecting the majority of students to utilize All You Care To Eat Locations, they should have planned for how they will effectively operate and provide a timely and successful dining experience for each student. 

In theory, swipe-system meal plans can be effective. However, App State Campus Dining was not ready to make that shift this year. Campus Dining should more evenly distribute the cost of meal plans between swipes and dining dollars, especially since dining dollars can be used at more venues on campus. Doing so will also decrease the volume of students using an All You Care To Eat facility over a dining dollar facility, which could make providing a timely and successful dining experience more attainable across all venues. Transitioning to new dining systems is tough for any campus, but this kind of sudden transition could have been made easier with gradual shifts to All You Care To Eat facilities with more inclusive meal plans.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story included a photo of an individual that has since been removed.