Staff Editorial: AU’s new meal plans leave students hungry for more
Improvements to meal plans are a step forward for building student trust, but the new plans leave students confused about their options
After American University announced updates to meal plans for the first time in two decades, the new options have left students confused as to what they are actually getting.
AU students are split over the newly announced dining plan. There are three general opinions on the issue: Terrace Dining Room lovers rejoice at unlimited swipes, TDR haters shiver at the idea of limited options and the rest are confused about how the plan actually works. In a recent Student Government ballot referendum, just over 60 percent of students who voted found the new plan unfavorable or very unfavorable, with 40 percent voting for the latter.
The new meal plans have seven components, compared to three in the past, with some new and some old: meal swipes, EagleBucks and retail meal exchanges are being kept from the old plans while dining dollars, on-campus mobile ordering credit, guest meals and exclusive event access are being added. The many facets of the plan have left students confused about their meals next semester.
Despite its complexity, the meal plan brings along many improvements. For example, as dining dollars are tax-free, they save students money when using them on campus. In previous years, students have complained about the usefulness of EagleBucks as there was no benefit to using them over cash or card. The plan also gives students a bit more bang for their buck with unlimited TDR swipes in all “full” plans, not just the most expensive one.
To compare, let’s look at the plan that AU requires for all freshmen. This year, freshmen had to purchase — at a minimum — the 175-Block plan. This cost $2,653 per semester and provided students with 175 meal swipes and exchanges and $400 EagleBucks. The new plan requires freshmen to purchase at least the All Inclusive Plus plan, which includes unlimited meal swipes for TDR and seven meal exchanges a week, for $2,805. For a $152 difference, the new plan certainly provides a large increase in the number of meals for students.
What are we losing then? Variety in options. Many students choose not to eat at TDR after raw meat reports and less-than-ideal health inspections. Most of the offered meal plans severely limit how many meals students can eat outside of TDR. With the newly announced additions, like Panera and Qdoba, students want to eat outside of TDR while using their meal exchanges. When getting a quick bite between classes, TDR is not a good option. The reusable takeout boxes, while a respectable move towards environmental sustainability, make getting takeout a hassle. With fewer meal exchanges, students may have a tougher time getting food between classes if limited to TDR.
The new plan is laid out with the number of retail meal exchanges per day or per week, instead of the number of swipes students get for the entire semester. Do unused exchanges per day or per week roll over to the next day or week, or are students left with the task of doing the math before finding a place to eat? If they don’t roll over, then students are potentially losing hundreds of dollars a week in unused meal exchanges.
Guest swipes are also a point of concern. Previously, since students had a set amount of meal swipes, one could choose to “swipe in” a friend to TDR to dine together or use a meal exchange on a guest. Now that meal swipes are unlimited, students must purchase a plan with guest swipes to dine with a friend. This significantly affects how students socialize together during meal times. Unless each member of a friend group is on a meal plan, they won’t be able to have dinner together, unless they want to pay almost $20 to get into TDR. Students no longer have full authority over how they utilize their meal plans.
The amount of food and space in TDR for the upcoming semester is a cause for concern as well. With students pushed toward eating there and no announcement regarding an expansion, how will TDR keep up with this new influx of students? During busy hours, there are already long lines, empty food stations and hungry patrons. This new plan will only aggravate that.
Additionally, AU hasn’t addressed some key confusions with the plans. What even is Mobile Order Credit? Will students no longer be able to use Grubhub on campus without it? Why can’t students use the full amount of dining dollars with Grubhub? What is the purpose of mobile ordering credits if we get dining dollars? Why don’t dining dollars roll over every semester like EagleBucks do? How do students check their balances for each of the multiple components? Will EagleBucks eventually be phased out? These are just some of the many questions that have yet to be addressed by AU Kitchen in the already extensive “notes” section of the meal plans website. This begs the question: if there are so many explainers, and still no answers, are these plans too complicated?
While many complaints can and have been made about the new plan, this is one of the most notable times AU has asked for student feedback, listened and said they directly utilized it to create a new course of action. AU hosted town halls, formed a Student Dining Committee and spoke with various groups of studentsto form their new plan. AU must continue seeking feedback from students for this and other issues. Let this be the first step to a more communicative future.
This article was edited by Alexis Bernstein and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Natasha LaChac, Leta Lattin and Sarah Clayton.