A couple of years ago, when Yale dining hall workers went on strike, students were mailed weekly meal plan reimbursement checks of $120. From a camera phone to posters to a dinner at Hot Tomato’s, this money was used on a wide variety of things. For once, students had the opportunity to spend their meal plan money however they pleased.
At George Washington University, the fees students pay for food do not necessarily disappear into the ether of shepherd’s pie, split pea soup and scrod. Instead, the money is transferred onto the student identification card, GWorld, and students can dine as they please by using GWorld as a debit card. According to the George Washington University Web site, GWorld is accepted at over 40 restaurants throughout Washington, D.C., in addition to 21 on-campus locations. Dining selections, to name a few, include Einstein Bros. Bagels, Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Wendy’s and Subway. Christina Jenkins, a GW junior, is a big fan of the program: “It’s great. I know that if I want to have a nice expensive dinner in Georgetown, it’s covered by GWorld.”
Apply this concept to the Yale meal plans; imagine going to Roomba instead of Saybrook for dinner. Or, if you’re not feeling Latin, perhaps Sandra’s might make you happy. Though dining halls are cheaper and more convenient, a night out with friends does not automatically mean you lose money from your dining hall plan. A statement on the GW dining Web site reads, “GW dining choices afford our students the opportunity to be as individualized in their eating as they are in their academic pursuits.” With this attitude, it seems that students are less likely to lose interest in their so-called meal plan.
Incoming GW freshmen are required to have a minimum dining plan of $3,000 a year in GWorld money, commonly called Colonial Cash. This minimum changes with a student’s standing. Regardless of the base amount, students may add money to their card at their own discretion. In addition to serving as a student’s meal plan, Colonial Cash can also be used to cover many everyday expenses including books, laundry, Student Health Services and vending machines. Several local retailers also accept GWorld.
The downside to GWorld is keeping track of your money, since restaurants can be expensive. “Sometimes I don’t realize how expensive things are because I’m using GWorld,” Jenkins said. On the plus side, GW actually improves on the economics of simply forgoing a meal plan to buy food with cash. Thanks to special school arrangements, although outside food might be expensive, most of it is also tax free when using GWorld.
Certainly Yale’s current system has some of GWorld’s elements. The Any 14 Plus Flex Plan, available to on- or off-campus students after their freshman year, comes with 100 Flex dollars, which can be used at Durfee’s, Blue Dog Cafe at the Hall of Graduate Studies, Naples and Yorkside. But Flex is relatively deceiving. While the Full Meal Plan provides for three meals a day, seven days a week, the Any 14 Plan Plus Flex consists of 14 meals but costs the same amount, leaving less than $1 a day for a third meal when using Flex. Most residential dining halls close at 7 p.m., with Commons staying open until 9 p.m. on the weekdays. College butteries, though cheap and perfect for a late night snack, are not covered by yearly dining hall dues.
Marcela Benitez ’07 said she’s frustrated with her limited options under Flex. “I hate walking around at night with my ID card, hungry and wanting a snack and knowing that my only option is Durfee’s.” While GW students have 40 local restaurants to choose from, Yalies only have two. Karen Dougherty, director of communications for University Dining Services, noted in an e-mail, “It does cost the restaurant a set up fee (covers cost of campus telecommunication lines and administration) to join the program.” This discourages restaurants from becoming involved.
The University also charges an 18-percent commission on all Flex purchases, which has been, for the most part, rejected by local restaurateurs who do not think the increase in business is worth the cost. The director of the GWorld program declined to disclose rate information.
Perhaps a true YWorld would detract from Yale’s unique residential life by drawing students away from their respective dining halls and into the city of New Haven and sap revenue from a stretched dining hall budget. After all, Yale’s residential college system provides for a unique social life and forms a huge part of on campus identity. But is it too much to ask to have some more options for the money we pay Yale every semester for food? It wouldn’t be too terrible every now and then to splurge Flex at, say, Roomba.