Students navigate dining plans

Mostly due to high overhead and labor costs, all the meal plans Yale Dining offers cost roughly the same amount.
Mostly due to high overhead and labor costs, all the meal plans Yale Dining offers cost roughly the same amount. Photo by Stephanie Rivkin.

Yale Dining offers several different meal plans to cater to preferences of various types of students, including early risers who regularly eat three meals per day and students living off-campus who eat at dining halls less frequently. But no matter which meal plan students choose, they pay roughly the same price.

The majority of undergraduates — who are required to select a meal plan if they live on campus — purchase the “full meal plan,” which allots students 21 meals per week for $2,925 per semester, said Howard Bobb, Yale Dining’s finance director. While nine students on the full meal plan interviewed said they generally do not eat all 21 meals each week, they said they chose that option because it costs the same amount per semester as the “Any 14” meal plan, which allows students 14 meals per week.

Bobb said the two plans cost the same because of the high operating costs of maintaining all residential college dining halls, adding that the cost of any plan would likely never fall below $2,925 per semester no matter how many meals it included. Director of Residential Dining Cathy Van Dyke SOM ’86 added that Yale has a commitment to keep a certain number of employees since dining hall workers are unionized, which adds to labor costs.

“Labor is the number-one cost [because of] the number of dining halls and number of facilities,” Bobb said. ”We still have to cover the overhead costs of all of the colleges [themselves].”

With the Any 14 meal plan, students are given $150 to spend at retail dining outlets such as Durfee’s, though the full meal plan does not give students any additional money. Yale Dining also offers an “anytime” meal plan allowing students unlimited meals for $2,996 per semester with $70 worth of points to spend at retail dining outlets.

Though all students interviewed said they feel the dining plans are overpriced, Yale Dining’s options are significantly less costly than plans at many of Yale’s peer schools. Comparable meal plans at Harvard and Princeton both cost over $5,000. Brown offers a plan that allots seven meals per week at a price above $3,000.

Bobb said Yale Dining monitors the weekly, monthly and yearly transactions indicating the amount of meals per week students eat so the dining halls can provide just enough food. He added that the dining halls would not have enough food if each student came to every meal they were allotted.

All students interviewed said even though they do not eat the total number of meals on their plans, they are generally satisfied with the plans because of the convenient payment system and the close proximity of dining halls.

“If you miss breakfast, the full meal plan is expensive, but you pay for the convenience,” said Patrick Cage ’14.

Van Dyke said Yale Dining refers students who express desire to get off the meal plan to Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, though Gentry said he has not heard of any requests from students living on campus to opt out of the meal plan..

Jenny Donnelly ’13, who lives on campus, said she tried to opt out of a meal plan because she is gluten-intolerant and has certain dietary restrictions. Though she approached Yale Dining to discuss moving off of a plan, she said, she was told she must remain on a plan but could work with her residential college’s dining hall manager to find more gluten-free options.

“I end up spending more [money] outside the dining hall than in it,” Donnelly said. “I think when it’s that many people [to serve] and you have restrictions and you’re a picky eater, you should be able to [get off the meal plan].”

Students were able to change their meal plans this fall between Aug. 20 and Sept. 14.

Comments