Intentional inconsistencies or obtrusive oversights?

Michael Nataro

Food is one of the most common concerns of all college students. “What meal plan is best for me?” they ask themselves. Many schools allow a great deal of flexibility with their plans and some do not even require students to have a meal plan. This allows students to choose not only from using cash or “points” (cash equivalent) if they ever eat at the dining halls, but also to participate in the timeless activity of college: late night delivery. Freshmen and sophomores all have meal plans as a rule the University sets. Juniors who live in the apartments are allowed to not have a meal plan since they have the facilities to cook food on their own.

All one needs is a calculator and the costs of all the meal plans as well as each of the meals’ individual costs to come to a very interesting conclusion about Villanova Dining Services’ meal plans: the numbers do not add up.

To Dining Services’ credit, students who have a meal plan and use it solely to eat in the dining halls (Donohue, Dougherty and St. Mary’s) do actually get their money’s worth. They in fact save money. A student who eats three meals a day, seven days a week, 14 weeks per semester eats about 294 meals per school term. With the individual meal costs of $5.75 for breakfast, $7.75 for lunch and $11.50 for dinner, overall costs for meals in the dining halls come to $25 a day. If one multiplies that by the days in a given semester (about 98), the amount of money spent comes to $2,450, which is $150 higher than the unlimited meal plan. That doesn’t include an additional $195 worth of points included in this meal plan students can use at the various cash operations on campus. This plan, so long as the student eats three meals per day, is a very good option.

What about the student who does not eat three meals a day? The answer to that is: simply get a lesser meal plan. There are 12 meal plans available to full-time, on-campus University students, only seven of which are open to underclassmen. These take into account a student’s desire to eat at Belle Air Terrace, the Italian Kitchen, the Corner Grill or Second Storey. This is very convenient if the students eat at any of these cash operations on an infrequent and irregular basis. But what if they eat there every day? Then they lose a great deal of money if they pay with meal plan.

On average, meals in any of the cash operations run about $5.50 to $6.50. Upperclassmen who have plans with a great deal of points use them to pay for these meals. Underclassmen use meal plans to buy them. This seems like a good idea, but if a person does the math, he or she would save money if he or she uses cash or Wildcard money at these cash locations because students rarely spend more than $6.50 at any of these places, when lunch in the dining halls costs $7.75. Students would certainly save money buying their dinner at these locations since dinner at the dining hall runs at $11.50. Dining Services doesn’t tell students this.

A third aspect that is not revealed to the students is the shrewd marketing on the part of Dining Services. For each meal, namely breakfast and lunch, the student pays for an all-you-can-eat buffet if he or she goes to the dining hall. What if the student only wants a small bowl of cereal for breakfast or a ham sandwich for lunch? If they eat at the dining halls, that doesn’t matter; they’re still paying $5.75 for that bowl of cereal and $6.75 for that ham sandwich.

One might think that the answer to this question is simply the old Latin proverb “caveat emptor,” or “let the buyer beware.” This is not the case. University students do not have the flexibility to exercise their patronage as an informed consumer; all freshmen, all sophomores and even juniors who live in St. Mary’s must have a meal plan.

“Our plans are designed and priced according to the dining habits of the students on these plans,” said Tim Dietzler, director of Dining Services. “The larger plans, while more expensive, offer substantial discounting, while the smaller plans offer a lower discount.

“While those smaller plans do in fact offer a lower discount, few consider that if one were to eat lunch and dinner in the cash operations six days a week for the 14 weeks they are on campus per semester, they would be paying $1008 for meals all together. Many frugal-minded students could save even more money and eat their own food for breakfast and lunch every day and only pay for dinners on campus. This is not permitted for underclassmen and St. Mary’s residents.

As a university policy, they all must comply. “Let the buyer beware” certainly does apply in this case. Unfortunately it cannot be applied for a majority of University students.