As of this semester, students patronizing campus dining halls will no longer have to worry about feeding their families. Following complaints from students, along with their visiting family and friends, Bon Appétit, will now grant students with four guest meals each semester. Because the guest meals are built into each block meal plan, their inclusion does not apply to juniors or seniors who are on the all-points plan.
Following a year of negotiations with the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Dining Committee and the Administration, the University’s food service contractor made the decision last February but the option was not available to students until this semester. Previously, students did not have the option of swiping for more than one meal at a time. After an initial meal was swiped, the software automatically reverted to points as a payment method.
During Homecoming Weekend last October, a number of visiting parents complained that their children had to pay for them with points.
“We consider it to be a vital student service to be able to get your friend a meal, or your mom a meal,” said Ben Firke ’12, Chair of the Dining Committee.
Its creators hope that the new arrangement will benefit both students and the administration.
“It’s good publicity for the University because people can have their younger friends [who may be prospective students] visit and use their guest meals for that,” said Jen Liebschutz ’11, who was Chair of the Dining Committee during the 2008-2009 academic year.
Although meals and points can be used interchangeably at the Usdan Marketplace or Summerfields, meals are technically more cost-effective than points. Consequently, because the addition of guest meals is at no extra cost to students, Bon Appétit needed to factor the incorporation of guest meals into their bottom line. According to Michelle Myers-Brown, Director of Usdan University Center, a total of four guest meals per semester is considered to be an industry standard for food service contractors at peer institutions.
“That seems to be the number that works,” she said.
Myers-Brown reported that many students have already started using their semester allotment of guest meals. If students choose not to use the meals for guests or as double-swipes, the guest meals can still be used as regular meals over the course of the semester.
While Bon Appétit and the administration had hoped that the addition of guest meals would deter students from sneaking into the back door of the Usdan Marketplace with friends, the new arrangement has not curtailed the practice, according Myers-Brown,.
“It does seem to still be happening,” she said. “It’s sad. That goes to the bottom-line. The more loss [Bon Appétit has], the less special things they can do.”
Although the change came into effect this fall, the Dining Committee began discussing the inclusion of guest meals in the 2007-2008 academic year, which was Bon Appétit’s first year as the University’s food service provider.
Aramark, the University’s prior dining service provider, allowed each student a total of 10 guest meals each year. According to Becky Weiss ’10, chair of the Dining Committee during the 2007-2008 academic year, the precedent set by the Aramark system factored into initial discussions with Bon Appétit; however, the general practicality of guest meals played a larger role in prompting action.
“Students have guests who need to eat,” Weiss wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “Each student spends a lot of money on their meal plan. Many students consequently feel that they have the right to guest meals, and I certainly agree.”
In June, Myers-Brown sent out a campus-wide e-mail notifying students of the new guest meal option. Myers-Brown, who serves as a liaison between the University and Bon Appétit, explained that the inclusion of guest meals was discussed when the University was looking for a new food service contractor three years ago. As any new contractor, Bon
Appétit did not have the flexibility to allow guest meals in their first year at the University in 2007.
“[Bon Appétit and the administration] were open to it from the beginning, but they just didn’t think it was possible,” Liebschutz said.
Although discussions continued, guest meals were not approved in the budget for the 2008-2009 academic year. Due to programming complications with the Blackboard software used for WesCards, the addition of guest meals could not take place in the middle of the year.
“The bigger issue was that it had not been built into the original start-up budget,” Myers-Brown said.
Although Bon Appétit currently plans to continue with the industry standard of four guest meals, the WSA hopes for greater flexibility in the future.
“We hope for more meals in the future, but right now we’re satisfied,” Firke said. “Right now this is real progress.”