Unused meal plans: I want my money back

Kaye Herranen

At the end of last spring term I had 26 meals left. Lunch at Andrew Commons costs $8.50, and dinner costs $11. Average that together, and a generic meal is $9.75. So 26×9.75=253.50. That’s $253 paid to Bon Appétit dining services that I did not use. That’s $253 I could use for textbooks or other school related costs.

We currently pay $1,302 per term for a meal plan, which totals to $3,906 per year for food. That is a lot of money. And I do understand that we pay Lawrence, which then pays Bon Appétit, so one dollar may not necessarily equal one culinary cash dollar.

Clearly, Bon Appétit is making a great profit off of Lawrence students. Each unused meal or balance of culinary cash is pure profit for them. I respect Bon Appétit’s efforts to provide healthy food, in a sustainable manner — I even accept that this will raise costs. However, I do have a problem with Bon Appétit collecting profit from my unused meals and culinary cash. It’s not like students can design a day-to-day meal plan, so we are bound to have left over meals or culinary cash after every term.

It’s not my fault that I didn’t make use of every meal included in my plan. I believe students have a right to get compensated for unused meals and culinary cash at the end of the year. It’s money that I paid, and if some of it was unused — I want it back.

At any other kind of business, I would be able to get my money back. Say I’m redecorating my dorm, and I think I will need five new posters. If I later find out that I really only have space for three posters, I can return the extra two, and I’m not out any money.

The meal plans provided to students need to be more flexible. I would be less upset if you could convert meals to culinary cash. At the end of the year I would buy my balance’s worth of snacks — and leave feeling like I got my money’s worth.

However, students cannot convert meals to culinary cash — you can purchase a meal with culinary cash though. Culinary cash and meals roll over from term to term, but not from year to year. If a student wants to switch meal plans in the middle of the term, they must pay an additional $50 fine.

At the end of the year, unused meals and culinary cash should either roll over to next year, or transfer into a sum paid back to the student. I understand if culinary cash/meals cannot convert equally back into real money. If $20 culinary cash equates to $15, so be it. I would be able to accept that.

Clearly though, culinary cash does have some conversion rate to U.S. dollars. This year Bon Appétit is allowing students to donate extra culinary cash to local charities. According to the advertisement outside of Kate’s Corner Store, Bon Appétit will take the donated culinary cash and purchase items for charities. They will then deliver the supplies to each charity.

I don’t mean to seem miserly, but when I first learned of this program I thought, “…well, why can’t I donate my extra culinary cash to a charity called Kaye’s College Fund?” I know that Bon Appétit’s intentions here are entirely good, and I really do applaud them for being more generous than myself. However, I think that instead of using extra culinary cash to address financial need of local charities, we could use extra culinary cash to address existing financial need of an even more local concern — that of the students.

Even if Bon Appétit could not return unused meals/culinary cash to students, they could use that money in a way that would benefit students. Bon Appétit could use this surplus to create a small scholarship for a Bon Appétit student employee. That would satisfy me.

I guess what it comes down to, is that I’m a poor college student. I scramble for money. I save my change. And it’s extremely frustrating to see some of that money go down the drain at the end of each year. And then it’s also frustrating to see that through this new program, I can use my unused balance to meet the financial need of charities — but I can’t use this same balance to help meet my own substantial financial need.