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Weber: Mediocrity in meal plans

April 4, 2019

Food is one of the most important things to a college student, it can make or break a student’s day. Over the last couple of years, the University of Toledo’s dining services has undergone several changes, both good and bad, under the Aramark Corporation, the management company that oversees UT dining services.

We have gained national chain restaurants like Chick-fil-A and Steak ‘n Shake, but we also have had to deal with annual price hikes.

 

We have faced these price increases, while Aramark, a global corporation serving more than 20 countries, had a net income of over $287 million in 2016 and agreed to give UT more than $23 million over the decade-long contract.

 

While we deal with monstrous amounts of student loan debt, a Fortune 500 company and our own university are making a large amount of profit off of our need to eat.

 

High meal plan cost isn’t the only factor that is playing a role in the quality of our meal plans at UT. On Aramark’s own website, it says that 43 percent of students say that a university’s dining services play a role in deciding which to attend.

 

Meal plan quality compared to similar schools in the state is affecting who is choosing to attend the University of Toledo.

Are UT’s meal plans up to par when compared to other schools in the state, or do they sink to the bottom?

 

University meal plans are quite simple. There are multiple plans that fit into two different categories, and the plans available to students depend on if they live on or off campus and what year they are.

Here at UT, the two categories are called all-access and block meal plans, and this doesn’t really change across the universities researched.

 

All-access allows for the student to swipe any amount of times throughout the semester for the buffet dining locations. Block meal plans give the student an allotted number of swipes to use per semester.

 

Another important aspect of the meal plan is dining dollars, or an amount of money to be used as a debit transaction at retail locations. The amount of dining dollars varies from plan to plan and vary greatly from school to school.

 

For simplicity, UT’s seven-day all-access meal plan was used in comparison to other universities’ meal plans with a similar cost. All schools are in the state of Ohio, and their student populations range between 12,000 and 24,00 students with UT falling in the middle.

 

Most schools offered an unlimited plan, but, in some cases, that plan wasn’t the most similar in cost. When comparing the schools, even though the cost is similar, a large variety of swipes and dining dollars were available to students.

 

Although UT was one of only a few to offer unlimited swipes, it was the school that offered the least amount of dining dollars.

 

UT offers $55 dining dollars with their meal plan while BGSU offers $900. The differences between all meal plans researched are shown in the data table. But, what does this mean when it comes to UT being above par with their meal plans?

 

Other students’ opinions of the current meal plans offered by UT are important, so a short survey was released via social media, resulting in 30 student respondents.

 

Thirty-eight percent of all respondent said that they were dissatisfied with their current meal plan.

Over half of all respondents said that their dining dollars ran out before the end of the semester, and several reported that they spent an additional $100-$200 at UT dining locations.

 

What the meal plan includes isn’t the only issue students have with UT meal plans. Seventy-five percent of respondents expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the quality and variety of food offered in the dining halls.

 

This sometimes creates the problem previously discussed: Students get tired of the same old food in the dining halls and head to the national chain restaurants on campus, using up their dining dollars.

Since the meal plans offer the lowest amount of dining dollars of all schools researched, students use them all up and then spend their own money.

 

So, what can we conclude, above par or subpar?

 

UT’s dining is run like a corporation, and profit matters more than the product produced.

 

UT meal plans offer the smallest amount of dining dollars despite the fact we have an increasing number of dining dollar-only locations. This I believe was done on purpose.

 

Give students a small number of dining dollars, they use them up but still want Starbucks throughout the semester. Students will then use their own money at locations, allowing for a larger income per student. And of course, the quality, variety and service dining halls offer could be improved. With these facts, the University of Toledo dining services are SUBPAR.

 

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me at Skyler.weber@rockets.utoledo.edu.

 

Skyler Weber is a third-year student majoring in biochemistry with a minor in biology.

 

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