Interview with head of BC Dining: Where your dollars are being spent

Earlier, Gavel Media sat down with the director of Boston College Dining Services, Helen Wechsler to debunk some of the rumors swirling around campus regarding the new meal plan (yes, the yogurt in the fruit bar is real Chobani). For those of you interested further in the logistics of your dining plan, Gavel Media received further information about the meal plan to explain just how much bang you’re getting for your buck.

Many BC students question why there are not tiered options for the mandatory meal plans. Wechsler was quick to point out that at most other schools if you live on campus you have a meal plan which is usually tiered by academic year (more options each year). BC takes into account the “average” student when they design the meal plan, and carefully research the amount he/she will consume. Their conclusion is about 5.5 days of meals, which comes to roughly $125 per week for our 36 active weeks of school, or $22 per day to spend on food. They found $22 per day to be a reasonable allocation.

Unfortunately, extra money at the end of the year left on meal plans cannot be given back because the dining halls have already spent it. All full-time employees in dining get benefits, which come from the dining budget, and are guaranteed a 35-40 hour workweek even when most students are on vacation. Many other schools don’t treat their employees with as much consideration. The rest of the meal plan money is spent on the rent of the building for dining, operating costs (like uniforms, silverware, pans, etc.), and food cost. The majority of the funds, about 60 percent, is divided between labor costs and food expenses.

Thus, our $22 per day seems a reasonable allocation when you consider that there are dining halls with fully active staff eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. The cost of hiring a chef for such hours would exceed what the school charges us, and that would be without any benefits. The other options include being more restrictive and lessening the hours and variety of food available, or forcing more regimented meal plans on students, like the ones at Tufts or Harvard.  They have “block plans” with ten meals per week, but that means no multiple swipes in one day for snacks or other friends, and if you miss any of those swipes, you lose them for the week. At least our money carries throughout the year and allows more flexibility.

Wechsler presented the issues she is faced with every year: for the academic year 2012-2013 she was allowed to increase our meal plans by $92 (a two percent increase) despite labor costs being eight percent higher, and her operating budget cut each year so the University can fund more financial aid. She concluded, “At the end of the day, the University looks at me and says, ‘Make it work.’”

All in all, it seems we’re lucky to have the meal plan that we do. We have enough variety and enough good food to feel well-served, and dining halls open for most of the day, seven days per week. It’s hard to be so critical once the less appealing alternatives are presented.

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