Food for all: Comparing Baylor’s dining plans

Dining Cutout_TT 04.22.13_0727 OFTWBy Kara Blomquist

Food. Everybody needs it. On-campus residents can get most of their meals the same way, through a meal plan, but they don’t all agree on its value.

These preset plans have benefits and disadvantages, and Baylor offers different plans than other schools in Texas.

One swipe of a Bear ID gives students access to a dining hall if they are on a meal plan. Some think the pre-made plans are just a covert way for dining services to swipe money out of their bank accounts.

“It’s too expensive,” said San Antonio senior Katie Kuzniar. “I think you might be able to get a better deal elsewhere.”

Not all students agree. Some say the meal plans are well-priced.

“I think you get what you pay for,” said San Antonio freshman Joseph Garay.

Garay said he plans on purchasing a meal plan next year, when he is a sophomore living on campus. Garay has the Classic plan right now, which has 11 meals per week, $150 dining dollars and five guest passes. This plan costs $1,922.05 per semester.

Dining Dollars can be used at all on campus dining halls and residential restaurants.

Baylor Dining Services works with Baylor to set meal plan prices. Dining Services creates a price that is slightly higher than the cost to provide the meal plan so it can make a little profit, said Jessica Gallippo, unit marketing manager for Baylor Dining Services. The university then looks at that number and decides on the student price.

“So it’s a very long process,” she said. “Overall, it’s not just a dining decision. There are a lot of different factors coming into play that make that final price.”

Students often complain about the price of meal plans, she said.

“Cost of meal plans is always an issue,” Gallippo said. “It’s always going to be a concern for students and parents. I hate to say, there’s not much that can be done about it at this point in time.”

Most students forget to consider Dining Dollars when students consider the price of their meal plans, Gallippo said.

Dining Dollars roll over from semester to semester and year to year. Any dollars remaining at the time of graduation are refunded to the student.

“We don’t profit from any unused Dining Dollars,” she said. “So when you figure out cost per meal you need to subtract those out.”

Gallippo said she wants students to see the benefits of the meal plans.

“We want it to be a value that they’re on a meal plan,” she said. “We want them to see the price value as well as the quality value.”

Bought without a meal plan, breakfast at a dining hall costs $5.50, lunch $8.75 and dinner $9.25.

Students on a meal plan pay less for their meals than these set prices, Gallippo said.

The Unlimited Dining and The Works have the best price value, she said.

The Works includes 16 meals per week, $100 Dining Dollars and five guest passes. The Works costs $2,065.82 per semester. Unlimited Dining includes unlimited meals per week and five guest passes. This plan costs $2,589.34 per semester.

The Works meal plan averages about $7 per meal, Gallippo said. This is $1.50 more expensive for breakfast, $1.75 cheaper for lunch and $2.25 cheaper for dinner, when compared to the cost of buying each individual meal.

With the Unlimited plan, depending on how much students eat each day, students can eat lunch and dinner at a cost that is $1 to $3 lower than if they bought each meal separately, Gallippo said.

“There is a price value on some of the meal plans to where you are getting a better price than if you were just buying your meals every single day,” she said.

Meal plans are also convenient, Gallippo said. Students on a meal plan can swipe their student ID instead of paying with cash or a credit card.

Garay said he likes not having to deal with cash when getting his meals.

“One benefit is that the meals are technically already paid for, so there’s no money involved,” he said.

Gallippo said she thinks the meal plans allow students to socialize at the dining halls. Meal plans encourage students to eat in the dining halls with other students, which creates a community atmosphere, she said.

“I just think, even as an incoming freshman, it’s the community,” she said. “It’s the camaraderie. It’s, ‘Let’s go to the dining hall and eat.’ It’s making friends.”

Kuzniar said she sees the social benefits of having a meal plan.

“I think for your freshman year, it’s good,” she said. “You get to have dinner with people. It’s close to the residence halls so it’s a good place to meet up with friends.”

Some students complain about the per-week meal plans.

San Jose, Calif., freshman Bhargavi Karumuri said she feels wasteful when she doesn’t eat all of her meals. She has Classic, with 11 meals per week. These meals disappear if they aren’t used.

“I feel bad when I don’t eat all of my meals,” she said. “But I don’t want to eat them just because I have them.”

Gallippo said she has gotten negative feedback about the per-week plans in the past.

“We get some pushback on the per-week meal plans,” she said. “You know, ‘Why does it expire if I haven’t used it yet?’”

A lot of students are on a per week meal plan, Gallippo said.

Of the 6,500 students on meal plans in the fall of 2012, 2,515 were on the Classic.

Freshman and students living at Brooks Residential College are required to have one of the four meal plans: Unlimited Dining, the Block 225, the Works and the Classic. The Block 225 includes 225 meals per semester, $75 Dining Dollars and five guest passes.

Gallippo said most incoming freshmen choose either the Works or Block 225.

“Their parents are worried that they aren’t going to be able to eat enough,” she said. “They think the Classic’s not enough.”

Sophomores, juniors and seniors have the option of the four meal plans available to freshman and 5 others.

The Basic includes seven meals per week and costs $1,150.70 per semester.

The Block 145 includes 145 meals per semester and costs $1,305.50.

The Socialite includes five meals per week and $100 Dining Dollars. This plan costs $941.10 per semester.

The Block 90 has 90 meals per semester and $100 Dining Dollars. This plan costs $909.71 per semester.

The Light Eater includes three meals per week and $250 Dining Dollars. The plan costs $704.65 per semester. All meal plans have five guest passes.

Gallippo said dining services looks at what other universities are doing when planning their meal plans.

“I would say Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University are the main ones that we normally compare ourselves to,” she said.

SMU offers its students various meal plan options depending on their classification and living situation. These plans are either all access, where students have unlimited access to the dining halls for a certain number of days each week, or block plans similar to those at Baylor.

SMU sophomore Allison Stephens said she thought the meal plans were too costly.

“At SMU, it’s pretty expensive, especially for what you get,” she said.

In the fall of 2013, the cheapest option for freshmen at SMU, the All Access 7, will be $2,500 per semester and provides unlimited dining hall access seven days a week with $100 Flex Dollars and 10 guest passes.

Flex Dollars can be used in all retail locations on SMU’s campus. The cheapest plan, for freshmen, in 2013 at Baylor will cost $2,010.82 per semester and provide 11 all-you-care-to-eat meals per week with $150 Dining Dollars.

Gallippo said she is discussing transitioning Baylor to all-access plans beginning in the fall of 2014.

“We’re trying to get away from the per week completely and go with the block and all access plans,” she said.

These meal plans would have to be approved by the Board of Regents before their creation.

“We are looking at, with the all access plan, making sure that we make it a greater value for students,” Gallippo said. “So that when a student sits down and breaks out the cost for what they think, cost per meal for me every single day, even though that might not be the same cost per meal when I break it out, we want them to see the value in that.”