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Default dining plans too small for some students, too large for others

Although most Duke students are able to choose from a wide range of dining plans, some students find it difficult to use all of their food points and end up with an abundance toward the end of the semester.

Toward the end of the spring semester, sophomore Emily Zhao found herself with 400 food points more than the recommended amount.

“I was on the first-year West campus food plan, and I think we had around 3400 points per semester,” Zhao said. “It was definitely way more than we needed. Every single day, I would have leftover food points from my daily allocation, and that kind of just piled up at the end.”

Zhao said that she bought a lot of Merchants on Points meals during the last few weeks of the semester to try to spend more of her food points. 

First-year students do not have a choice between dining plans.

“The default meal plan for [first-years] living on West Campus [was around 3400] food points, and that comes out to be  [nearly] 32 dollars a day,” sophomore Eric Bing explained.

For Bing, this dining plan was too small.

“I guess I have a pretty fast metabolism, so I had to eat a lot to maintain weight or try to gain weight,” he said. “I was eating four or five meals a day … The biggest drainer of food points for me was just eating multiple meals. I had a bad habit at breakfast of adding a lot of extra eggs, which they charge quite a bit for. So breakfast would come out to be around 14 dollars or 20 dollars sometimes. It was really hefty.”

However, Bing is opting for the smallest food plan next year. “I feel like food points are kind of restrictive in that you can only spend it on food on campus,” he said.

The dining plan system is essential to keeping food services running on campus. According to Robert Coffey, executive director of dining services, the plans allow Duke Dining to have a reliable source of revenue each year.

Coffey explained that Dining uses this revenue to oversee the operations of more than 50 food vendors on campus, including caterers in the Brodhead Center, national brands like Panda Express and food trucks on Swift Avenue.

“Our business model is to cover our costs…and generate enough revenue to make constant improvements to our service or, like in the past year, meet sudden and unanticipated needs,” Coffey wrote in an email.

Coffey noted that despite “a significant decline in revenue this past year,” Dining kept two-thirds of its dining options open to ensure that students still had a variety of food choices. 

Dining also faced the challenge of adjusting its operations to emphasize safety and convenience throughout the academic year. 

“The ‘Duke Dine-Out Mobile Ordering’ program was expanded to all Duke Dining locations on campus,” Coffey wrote. “We added a delivery option, and eight pick-up locations were introduced throughout campus for a convenient and safe ordering process. Additionally, the Merchants-on-Points program extended delivery hours to accommodate students, and food trucks were available on campus during the week so that students could stay close to their residence halls.”

“And of particular note,” Coffey wrote, “last March, we paid our vendors to keep all contract workers fully employed through the end of May 2020. We’re not aware of any other university that made such a commitment.”

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