Not enough on our plate

The Phoenix Plan’s lack of viable meal exchange options undermines its success.

By Maroon Editorial Board

Once again, food has become a point of contention on campus. Last Friday the maroon explored the most recent shortcomings (“Dining changes encounter obstacles”) in the University’s dining options. Response to the new Phoenix Meal Plan—instituted in response to complaints last year about the lack of variety in meal plans—has been underwhelming, with a mere 183 students deciding to participate.

This is in contrast to the 2,609 students using the Unlimited Meal Plan. Of course, the Phoenix Plan isn’t open to first-years. Prohibiting half of the students living in housing from participating would hurt the success of any program, much less one already saddled with numerous problems. Though administrators were wise to introduce other meal plan options, more effort should be invested in making these plans compelling and satisfying to the student body.

The Phoenix Plan’s appeal is supposed to lie in its flexibility: For the same price as the Unlimited Plan, you get 150 visits to dining halls, 150 Maroon Dollars, and 15 meal exchanges. When introduced by the Campus Dining Advisory Board and administrators, the hope was that this diverse array of choices would solve all the problems identified with the Unlimited Plan.

But the Phoenix Plan just isn’t up to snuff. Its main problem revolves around meal exchanges. The concept is simple: In campus cafés and certain retail restaurants, students may use one of their meal exchange swipes for pre-determined packages. However, these meal packages just aren’t satisfying or filling. For example, a Hutch meal exchange adheres to a “one entrée and one side” system. Entrées include meager meals like a junior cheeseburger, hummus wrap, or yogurt parfait. With these paltry options, there is virtually no incentive for a student to use a meal exchange: It won’t even fill her stomach. Options in the cafes are no more substantive, and they make dining hall portions look like a feast.

An even more pressing problem is the dearth of attractive meal exchange locations. The available locations consist of Hutch and the non–student run cafés on campus. Hyde Park favorites like Z&H or Harold’s are nowhere to be found. Expanding the program to popular restaurants and non-affiliated cafes would increase the appeal of the Phoenix option.

This being said, meal exchanges are worthless everywhere if staff members aren’t aware of the program. It’s not rare to request a meal exchange and receive a blank stare from the cashier in return. Training staff to know about these programs, especially in places like Hutch, is critical in establishing them as a viable option for the student body. It’s understandable that a brand-new program is relatively unknown, but if administrators want it to catch on, educating staff about the system is a necessity.

The recent success of Fourth Meal proves that the administration genuinely cares about student dining needs; they went through an extensive testing period to deliver a popular and satisfying addition to campus culture. But we’re hungry for more: The satisfaction and convenience of meal exchanges should be heavily considered when rethinking the Phoenix Plan. To do any less would be to deliver another half-baked option to the student body.

 The Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.