New weekly meal plans expire before use

Thousands of meal blocks are going unused by residential students with weekly expiring plans. In contrast to previous years, Seawolf Dining began offering two new plans that include 14 meal blocks per week (with 200 dining dollars) and 18 meal blocks per week (with 120 dining dollars).

In the first six weeks of school, over 6,000 meals expired before use for all students with the 14 plan, according to Financial Systems Administrator Brian deZeeuw. Fewer students opted into the 18 plan, and collectively, over 2,000 meals blocks expired.
Connor Farrar has lived on residential campus for two years, and he said his 14 week plan doesn’t allow him to use meal blocks outside of the Creekside Eatery, also known as the Commons.

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Photo credit: Cheyenne Mathews

“I just have these 14 meal blocks every week, and I can’t use them anywhere except for the Commons,” Farrar said. “Which is hard because my classes are on west campus, obviously, and this is residential campus. It’s pretty separated.”

Seawolf Dining offered one meal plan with ‘meal equivalencies’ or meal blocks that could be used at other locations on campus like Subway, Cuddy Market Place, and the various coffee shops related to Seawolf Dining. That plan is called Complete Cuisine and it costs $250 above all other plans offered this year.

“It’s a bummer. I feel kind of robbed honestly because they just expire at the end,” Farrar said. “They don’t roll over or anything and if I want to buy a meal for someone else or something… then I can’t have two meals everyday every week. I’d have to have one meal a day.”

Students with the 14 or 18-block weekly plans are still able to use dining dollars on off-residential campus locations, but the amount of dining dollars this year compared to last year was significantly reduced. Last year, a student plan could have had anywhere up to 800 dining dollars.

“I used up all of my dining dollars and so now they’re gone. So now, whenever I eat, I have to eat, I literally just have to eat at the Commons pretty much because I don’t really have any dining dollars left, and they don’t take meal blocks anymore anywhere on campus except for here at the Commons,” Farrar said. “It’s actually a major pain in the ass.”

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David Weaver is the director of University Housing, Dining and Conference Services and he said Seawolf Dining has been able to offer several new amenities to students. For example, Seawolf Dining has brought food trucks to campus, they have created a breakfast sandwich option for students who want something Friday morning before 10, and they have started offering healthier late night food options.

Weaver said more meals are expiring this year but the weekly plans renew each week, which means he is seeing, “fewer students running out and having to add on.”

“With the 14 meals a week it really guarantees that student, whether they use it or not is out of my control, but it really guarantees for them and their family yes, your student will get a good healthy meal with a variety of choices twice a day if they want it,” Weaver said.

Last year, Seawolf Dining offered meal plans, with meal equivalencies for plans of 75, 100, 150 or 200 blocks and that the weekly plans amount to 238 meals per semester, which he said is a significant increase in meals available to the student.

“You can see from the data that quite a few meals are going unused at the beginning of the semester and you can see that it improves as a percentage used,” Weaver said. “It starts off at under 1,200 per week and it goes to over 1,300.”

More meal blocks are used as the semester progresses, and Weaver said he hopes that trend will continue.

“It is surprising that it’s not more but at least it’s trending in the right direction where students are using more and more of their meals,” Weaver said. “If I had a magic wand I would have students use virtually all of their meals.”

Weaver said he is always seeking constructive feedback about the dining services, and he encourages students to contact him directly.

Since students with weekly plans have been unable to use meal blocks at other dining locations, those locations have lost significant business. Subway manager, Joe Johns, said Subway has lost consistent customers.

“This location has lost sales and we have seen a morale of students go down every time we have to tell them that their meal plans, part of their meal plan, isn’t able to be accepted here,” Johns said. “So we’ve lost some loyal students who have come here on a regular basis because of that change.”

Johns said he or his staff were the first ones to tell students they were unable to use their meal blocks at other locations, like in the previous year.

“We’re hoping that there’s going to be a change back to the old plan or simply that all students will be able to use their meal blocks at our location so that we can get some of our loyal customers back,” Johns said.

If meal blocks continue to go unused, more of the weekly plan blocks will have expired at the end of the semester than the amount of all expired plans last fall.