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Dining Services director says rollover meal swipes not possible

<p>Meal plans are priced based on how many meals students eat on average per plan. Students who buy a 285-meal plan only eat 204 meals per semester.</p>

Meal plans are priced based on how many meals students eat on average per plan. Students who buy a 285-meal plan only eat 204 meals per semester.

Many students who purchase meal plans do not end up using all of their designated meal swipes by the end of the semester. But Joseph Charette, executive director for Rutgers Dining Services, says meal swipes that roll over to the subsequent semester or year can not implemented at the University.

Charette has worked with the University’s food services for 27 years and said rollover meal swipes are not something that is possible for dining services to do.

Because Rutgers charges students for the average number of meals eaten, and not the number of meals bought, students do not own extra swipes that can be rolled over.

“‘I want to donate my 35 meals to a community food bank or roll them over to the next semester.’ You never bought them. They don’t exist. See, the way things work at a university is that everyone is paying for the average,” Charette said.

Rather, Charette said the University accounts for missed meals and figures a discount percentage into each of the meal plans. By straight math, 285 meals should cost about $3,697.50.

“A 285 meal plan costs $2,645.00. So if the average is, for example in this instance, 204 meals, we charge for 204 meals. That’s why it’s $2,645.00. A $1,052.50 discount of $3,697.50 is a 28.5 percent discount,” Charette said.

There is constant confusion among students over the determination of meal plans, but he said everything comes down to simple math.

“So Monday through Friday, three meals. That’s 15 meals. Saturday and Sunday, we do brunch and dinner. So that’s four more meals. There’s 19 meals a week. Fifteen times 19 is 285. And that’s how we create the numbers for each plan,” Charette said.

If dining hall websites broke the numbers down step by step for students, students would not be left wondering where their money goes, said Snehal Butani, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

“All of these numbers should be explained better. I feel like it’s all a big secret. I’m always unsure of how the pricing works. Does a meal swipe get deducted if you use a guest swipe? I don’t know. It just doesn’t make sense to me. They could make things clearer,” Butani said.

The meal swipe system could use a few improvements, said Sabrina Tibbetts, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

“Rutgers forces meal plans on you without any form of a compromise. We’re getting ripped off when we don’t use our meal swipes. If you had the option to carry extra meal swipes over to the next semester, that'd be great,” Tibbetts said.

If the cost of a meal differs per meal plan, Butani said that does not seem like a reasonable system for students to buy into.

“Although using meal swipes is still better than using RU Express per meal, I still feel like we’re getting ripped off," Butani said. "People in the Rutgers Facebook group figured out the pricing and the lower the meal plan, the higher the meal cost. It doesn’t seem fair." 

Some meal plans prices will not fluctuate much, but others do. The bigger the meal plan, the greater number of chances there are to miss meals, Charette said.

“All of the meal plans, no matter what plan it is, all have different missed meal factors. The larger they are, the higher the percentage tends to be," he said.  

For example, if the plan include 50 meals, it is assumed the student eats the entire meal. 

"So we take that missed meal factor and discount the cost of the meal plan by that much money,” Charette said.

Students pay for the average number of consumed meals, Charette said, rather than their own consumption.

“If the average consumption of a 285 (plan) is 204, everybody pays for 204. Yeah, some athlete may eat 285 meals, but that means that someone else is eating less than 285 and they’re basically subsidizing the athlete’s meals because we’re collecting exactly what gets consumed,” Charette said.

The worth of a meal is mostly dependent on the food choices that dining services has to offer that particular student, Butani said.

The face value of a meal swipe should be the same dollar value as what students paid for it, Tibbetts said.

“I don’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth," Tibbetts said. "I'm paying about $17 a meal, which is ridiculous considering a meal swipe is only worth $8 of food at places like the Douglass Campus Center or Kilmer’s Market." 

Students should be able to donate their extra swipes because otherwise it is a waste, Butani said.

Whether or not the dining system suits the needs of students depends on the satisfaction of students, Charette said.

“I think (students) answer with their dollars and cents by buying meal plans. We sell over 18,000 meal plans. If they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t be buying into it,” Charette said.

First-year students residing on campus are required by the University to purchase a meal plan with at least 210 meals.

Nicole Osztrogonacz is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Find her on Twitter @nikki_osz for more.

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