Meal plans not always best value

With more than 2,500 meal plan holders on campus, it is no wonder Tech’s Dining Services’ web page states, “There is no better value than the meals per week option.” However, an in-depth look at on-campus dining alternatives may prove otherwise.Tech’s range of meal plan options serve those wanting an unlimited amount of meals or those only needing 25 a semester.

“You’re never going to be eating cheaper in your life than on a meal plan,” said Sam Holm, Dining Services director.

But how can students shelling out hundreds of dollars a semester just for food really be sure of this?

The truth is, no matter what plan is held, students who understand the details of his or her meal plan could receive better value in the end. Students can strategize to gain value by looking at the cost of each individual meal, the dining location and how much food is being consumed.

For example, a student who selects the “Totally Ten” meal plan pays $1,308 a semester for 10 meals per week, excluding dining dollars. How can the holder of this meal plan know whether the $1,308 paid to Chartwells will provide a good value over the course of the semester?

On a 10-meal-per-week plan a student has 140 meals to use over the 14-week semester, not including spring break. The $1,308 total cost for those 140 meals makes them individually worth $9.34 per meal, as calculated by simple division.

Chartwells, however, uses a $6 equivalency for meals purchased in locations other than The Marketplace in the RUC. This means students swiping a meal outside of the RUC cafeteria exceed this equivalency by $3.34.

If the student were to pay the $6 equivalent in cash for each individual meal instead of the $9.34 on a meal plan for the same 140 meals during the semester, the total spent would equal $840. This means the student could have paid $840 in cash for food instead of spending an additional $468 to afford the $1,308 meal plan.

While these numbers may be shocking, when used properly, meal plans can still be extremely valuable. Where meal plan value truly lies is in the location of the swipe.

“The Marketplace has the greatest value, dollar for dollar,” Holm said. “If you’re the kind of person who likes to graze and have variety, then this type of setting is best for you.”

Students dining in the RUC Marketplace receive more options for a single swipe, benefitting heavy eaters. However, a swipe on all other campus locations is still based on a $6 meal equivalent.

Swiping a meal in Swoops might be convenient for purchasing a single burger or baked potato, but if the amount that could have potentially been spent in cash is any less than the worth of an individual meal on a particular plan, it is more economical to drop the plan.

There is a two-week grace period for students to decide if the selected plan suits their needs. Holm asks students to analyze and try to understand the meal plan.

“In those two weeks,” Holm said, “if you don’t like the meal plan, you can adjust. Whether 200 or 600 people come through those doors, the cost is the same for us.”

The meal plan options are designed for each holder’s peace of mind.

“If a student doesn’t have to worry about where they’re going to have their next meal,” Holm said, “they can spend more time studying or worrying about other things. I find very few people who aren’t going to want some sort of meal plan throughout college.”

Although the math shows cash sometimes is the cheaper option, some students can still benefit from using meal plans if they are used responsibly. Tech Dining Services’ mission is to make the customer extremely happy with the meal play by giving the best possible service.

For more information on meal plan pricing and guidelines, visit www.dineoncampus.com/ttu.