New dining: year 2

Enrollment increased 10 percent

After going into effect Fall 2011 following widespread campus controversy, the house dining plans saw higher enrollment this year compared to last year, according to statistics from MIT Dining.

With a 10.1 percent increase in the number of students who enrolled in a meal plan, this year 2078 students purchased a plan as of the end of the change period (Sept. 21, 2012). Last year’s meal plan enrollment was 1887.

Most students seem to value flexibility in their meal plans — those who have more choices tend to lean toward the Any plans, rather than the Basic plans. (The Any plans allow for any combination of meals per week, while the Basic plans only provide breakfast/brunch and dinner.)

Michael Myers, Assistant Director of Dining, stressed that MIT Dining is “trying to work with Bon Appetit and the house dining community, as well as engaging with students, to find out how to incorporate more flexibility [in the meal plans],” making it easier for students to coordinate their class schedules with meals.

Freshmen living in Maseeh Hall are required to have the Full 19 plan, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner provided. Although MIT Dining did not provide statistics on the Full 19 plan broken down by dorms, by class, more freshmen opted for the plan this year than last year.

Similarly, the Dining Office attributes the large increase in meal plan enrollment to students who don’t live in dining dorms and are not required to purchase a meal plan. There was a large increase in meal plans — primarily through New House — but the exact number of students is still unknown.

Meal plan pricing

One prevalent concern about enrolling in the dining plan is the price compared to the number of meals students actually use. Despite student complaints that the meals are too expensive, Myers and Alyssa May, Communications Officer for Residential Life Programs, explained that the prices are actually in favor of students’ needs.

“When we formulated the financial aid model of the house dining meal plan program, a portion of unrealized meals were factored into the overall model, which lowered the prices,” said Myers. “Many local and peer institutions have higher priced meal plans than MIT.”

While MIT’s Full 19 plan costs $4,635, Stanford’s Full 19 plan costs $5,398, and Northwestern’s comparable plan costs $6,380.

“Some institutions feature unlimited access meal plans that range from Boston University’s $4,870 to over $6,400 at Cornell University,” added Myers. Harvard University’s Unlimited Plan costs $4,990, while Tufts University’s and American University’s plans cost over $5,000.

Students have mixed feelings about the dining prices. Henna Jethani ’14, who lives in McCormick Hall, echoed Myers’ emphasis on flexibility in the meal program ­— “I have the Basic 10 plan. I think the dining plan is expensive, but if you’re an upperclassman, it does makes things easier and more flexible.”

Baker resident Lucas Tambasco ’13 likes his Any 7 transitional plan, but “the plans can be pricey, so it is a bit unfair to force freshmen to pay for all meals just because they want to live in a dorm with a dining hall.”

Quality of food

While Myers and May emphasize the high food quality in the dining halls, students disagree — “Some of the quality was lost when they switched from à la carte to all you can eat dining,” said Tambasco.

Ricardo “Ricky” DeArmas ’15, who lives in Maseeh Hall and is on the Basic 14 plan, agreed: “I don’t use all my meals, and oftentimes I end up buying from LaVerde’s or on campus. I think dining has diminished in quality since the last semester, and it would be great to see more variety.” If living in Maseeh didn’t mandate having a dining plan, DeArmas probably wouldn’t be enrolled in one because he “eats cheaper and better outside the dining halls.”

Despite these negative views on quality, Myers said that this is not compatible with the overall positive feedback they have received about the food.

Myers’ advice? “Every dining hall offers something different, so venture out when you can.”