On-campus dining, like many things this semester, just isn’t the same.
The buffet line has turned into singular to-go meals, drink and ice cream machines are completely closed, and coffee makers are unavailable.
All of these changes make complete sense, as UT is grappling with both serving students and maintaining public health. What doesn’t make sense, however, is that dining costs haven't changed one bit.
For all on-campus residents, an all-you-can-eat meal plan is included in the price of housing. UT does offer an alternative “flex plan”, which allows students to exchange meal swipes for Dine In Dollars and Bevo Pay. However, because unused Dine In Dollars expire at the end of the year, this forces just as much dining hall use as the unlimited plan.
As long as COVID-19 restrictions are in place, University Housing and Dining must offer students a wider variety of cheaper meal plan options that charge students for what they’re actually getting.
Erich Geiger, senior director of dining and catering, said UT switched to an unlimited meal plan to “(address) the food insecurity that was happening on campus” as a result of students running out of money in the previous Dine In Dollars plan.
This is a practical option but only if it’s being used to the fullest. Since students can no longer linger in the dining halls due to COVID-19 regulations, they have no use for a meal plan that lets them come back for seconds, thirds or even fourths.
Biochemistry freshman Hallie Feinberg goes to the dining halls at least once every day but still feels her money is going to waste.
“I think that the unlimited plan is super unnecessary, and they charge way too much,” Feinberg said. “I dont think it’s easy to get a good value out of it.”
In addition to the lack of truly unlimited dining options, COVID-19 restrictions have decreased the variety of food options and resulted in the recent closure of one of the dining halls. The idea that current residents are paying the same for their meal plans as past students — but getting half as much — doesn’t sit well.
“Thinking about all the COVID stuff and how the price hasn't changed for dining … it’s kind of frustrating,” communication and leadership freshman Claire Cheney said.
UHD must allow students to opt into cheaper options, such as plans that charge for two or three visits a day instead of an unlimited amount. Both Cheney and Feinberg acknowledged that this would be much more appealing to them.
While Geiger attributed the unchanged meal plan cost to the increased financial burden brought on by operating through the pandemic, he too acknowledged that the options available to students have been subpar. Now that UHD can better predict student traffic in dining halls, Geiger promised that improvements are on their way.
“Here in October, we’re expanding the offerings … if you go up there today, the stir fry station is open, next week the salad bar will be open, and there will just be more variety all around,” Geiger said. “We’ve got to make it a little bit more fun.”
These changes are a step in the right direction. However, with only six weeks left on campus, they’re coming in too late. Students have been charged for the unlimited plan for over half a semester and are just now getting a glimpse of what they’re paying for.
Going into next semester, which is on track to have similar restrictions as those in place now, UHD needs to offer cheaper dining plans upfront that let students pay for what they actually plan on using.
Hosek is a psychology freshman from Austin, Texas.