Staff Editorial: The new meal plan is a scam

This year, Lawrence introduced a new meal plan system. Among other changes, it shifted around term meal plan options and added a new one that is intended to allow students to have all three of their meals every day in Andrew Commons. Additionally, meal swipes expire and replenish every week, forcing students to plan their meals more carefully.

Despite the many emails sent to the student body and the posters located around the Warch Campus Center, students discovered many of the smaller changes on their own. Many of these are small inconveniences that were previously appreciated features of the Cafe, Corner Store and Commons. These changes include the elimination of sack lunches from the Corner Store, the requirement to purchase a beverage cup with their clamshell in the Commons instead of being provided one, and the new need to plan around meal swipes rather than eat when and where the day’s impromptu schedule allows. 

Some of these changes feel less like small inconveniences and more like a Bon Appetit ploy to put more money in their pockets at the student’s expense. Not only are we paying more for a meal plan that still does not provide students with three meals a day as intended, but we have less freedom to budget our meal swipes and culinary cash, and use our own money in the ways that we wish. One major change that may increase students’ monetary loss while also increasing Bon Appetit’s monetary gain is the removal of the culinary cash and meal swipe roll-over. In the past, this roll-over was helpful for students who may have needed more culinary cash or swipes in later terms, since it allowed students to save and budget accordingly. The new system does not allow this, and may also result in wasted meal swipes each week, and wasted culinary cash at the end of  each term. What other use would this serve than for Bon Appetit to have a chance to gain even more unused money from students? We are also concerned that because students will be afraid of wasting swipes and culinary cash, they will end up running out too quickly, requiring them to use pocket money for food, money that wasn’t budgeted for meals at the beginning of the year, since food needs are supposed to be covered by the expensive meal plan that we are required to buy into. 

We are also frustrated by the addition of the “guest swipes” or rather, the new rule that students are no longer allowed to swipe other students into Andrew Commons. With guest swipes ranging from only three to five per term, students are being restricted from spending the money they already put into the meal plan. Why does it matter how students choose to spend their own swipes which they paid for with their own money? If we wish to help a friend out, we should be able to. 

While Bon Appetit and Lawrence may make the argument that extra money gained from student losses will go back towards campus needs, like renovations, we wish that they would have been more apparent in their intentions if this is the case. Tell us what our money to be used for.  If part of our meal plan is going towards renovations, set that aside in a separate renovations fund. Don’t lead us to believe that what we paid into the meal plan will be used for food for us to eat when it won’t. 

Besides transparency, communication as a whole about these changes is a big issue. 

Many students were surprised to find out that swipes would no longer be sharable when they got back to campus. That change wasn’t made clear before meal plans were selected. Despite the efforts of Bon Appetit and the university to communicate the various changes, many Lawrentians were not aware that swipes would no longer roll over term to term, but rather week to week, beginning Friday morning and restarting Thursday nights at midnight. This may speak to a larger issue on campus, which is that of clarity and communication. Many Lawrentians have expressed that communication on campus is often confusing and unclear. There’s a lot of emails, but not a lot of information. During the 2018-2019 school year, an informal Facebook group was formed entitled “The Shoutbox: Lawrence University Edition,” bearing the description, “Communication at Lawrence sucks; let’s fix that.” The group has a membership of almost 400, showing that the sentiment is widespread, perhaps even accepted among students. Even the often-changing and expanding names and descriptors of campus offices or titles has left them confused about what resources or staff members to turn to when in need.

As these changes to meal plans and culinary services are new, we hope the staff involved in making changes will continue to listen to students’ feedback and to what we believe would be most beneficial to us, rather than what would be most beneficial for them, to further improve the new system in place. We realize that there were forums last year to help determine new meal plan options but we are disappointed that such drastic changes were made when attendance at these forums was low. To students, our communication on this issue is important, and we believe that we should have a bigger say in our own meal options. Share what you like about the changes and what you don’t. Communication on the part of the students is important if we wish to have an impact on how meal plans work in the future.