Inside equivalency: How first-years make up for their meal swipes after missing a Marketplace meal

Every first-year knows that their meal plan is centered around Marketplace. But what if a student misses a meal, is in a rush or wants a change from Marketplace’s daily buffet? 

Duke Dining has a method to allow first-years to turn their Marketplace meal swipes into food points. Called “equivalency,” the first-year dining plan gives students $5.50 for breakfast or lunch and $10.50 for dinner in food points, if they miss or choose not to use their daily swipes at Marketplace. However, the process for claiming equivalency food points is stringent.

Some members of the Class of 2027 have worked in the equivalency process to fit their daily schedules, while others have trouble figuring out the details and limitations of equivalency.

“It’s not generally understood what times and where you can use equivalency,” said first-year Noah Tajudeen. “It takes some looking around and once you do understand it, I think it's really helpful to have as a backup option.”

All first-years at Duke are required to buy Plan I. The dining plan includes 14 pre-paid, all-you-can-eat meals each week at Marketplace and $910 worth of food points for additional meal purchases like lunch and extra snacks at any Duke Dining location.

On weekdays, five of these meal swipes are designated for Marketplace breakfast. But some students like first-year Elle Commerce choose to not eat breakfast. 

“I typically don’t eat breakfast. I eat lunch, probably, most days of the week, and dinner every day,” Commerce said. Because she doesn’t use her breakfast swipe, Commerce tried to use equivalency to redeem those food points, but was met with a denial.

Equivalency food points only work at The Skillet in the Brodhead Center before 10:30 a.m., Trinity Cafe until 12 p.m. or Marketplace for lunch on weekdays. For dinner, first-years can claim the unused swipe as food points at Trinity Cafe from 4 p.m. through closing or at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life on Monday through Thursday. 

But outside of the correct time window or location, students will be denied the funds. Funds must be used the same day in order to be redeemed.

“I think that it doesn't exist. One time I went to Trinity Café and tried to use it and they told me no. So, I’ve never used it before,” Commerce said. 

First-year Biz Neely did not know that equivalency cannot be built up or used after the day breakfast or dinner is missed. Neely only eats breakfast at Marketplace on the weekends, so she thought she had saved up equivalency funds throughout the weeks.

Some students, like first-year Gracey Abernethy, time their equivalency usage with their class schedules. Abernethy uses equivalency for lunch at Marketplace after her class on East Campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“After my class on East, I go to Marketplace, and I get a free sandwich with anything I want on it,” Abernethy said. “I just [put] stuff in the box and they just give it to me for free.”

Tajudeen has also figured out a similar process that works for him to claim equivalency on West Campus.

“I'll use [equivalency] at Skillet most of the time, because my class gets out in time for me to be able to get breakfast at Skillet,” he said. “If I do miss Marketplace dinner, which is pretty rare, I will use it at Trinity Cafe to stock up on drinks that I want to have in my fridge in my dorm room.” 

“I appreciate the concept of equivalency. I like that it offers you flexibility if your schedule doesn’t fit in one of the three set times that Duke expects you to be eating,” Tajudeen added.

Sophie Endrud

Sophie Endrud is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.  


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