Meal plan gets a makeover
Residence life can be full of surprises, but a change to the residence meal plan should eliminate one of the shocks.
McMaster Hospitality Services has changed the structure of the meal plans this year in response to student concerns raised over recent years.
Under the previous system, students would surrender leftover basic meal plan money when they moved out of residence.
Now, half of a student’s basic meal plan money immediately goes to McMaster Hospitality Services to cover the organization’s overhead costs.
To give full value, Hospitality Services gives a 50 percent discount on all basic meal plan purchases.
“Every year, we sit down throughout the year with the Student Dining Committee and we do surveys with students,” said Chris Roberts, director of Hospitality Services.
“The main beef with the meal plan – and our meal plan hasn’t changed in 25 years – is that if you had a balance at the end of the year, Hospitality Services would keep that money. That was a sore spot with parents and students.”
Roberts said he would spend the month of April on the phone each year with parents and students providing explanations.
“If a student has a $3,000 meal plan, we don’t know what they are going to spend. A lot of them don’t spend anything, they might spend $100 throughout the year for whatever reason that may be and we’re not covering our costs. The money that’s confiscated at the end of the year by Hospitality goes towards paying our overhead costs,” Roberts said.
There are significant costs for Hospitality Services that provided the justification for keeping the leftover meal plan money at the end of the year.
“We are committed to keeping our residence dining operations open basically all year round, seven days a week. We pay rent, we pay utilities, we pay for equipment and we pay a unionized staff,” said Roberts.
With students looking for change, Hospitality Services looked outwards.
Roberts looked at other universities like the University of Guelph and Western University for inspiration. These universities use similar programs and Roberts said all the feedback about their system was positive.
“What we did was take half of your basic, just your basic meal plan money not all of it, your basic. We take that up front. That way we’re guaranteed that our overhead costs are covered throughout the year,” Roberts explained.
The Student Dining Committee, the now-disbanded Inter-Residence Council and former McMaster Students Union President Ehima Osazuwa approved the change.
“I thought it was progress compared to what we had before. In the past, students went home with nothing even if they had $1,000 in their account. But now, with the new changes that were made… you can go home with that money,” said Osazuwa.
Roberts also noted that Hospitality Services is “an ancillary department” of the university. Any profits they make are put back into the university.
“We’re here for the students, that’s the bottom line. There’s no more money in it for us, we’re not making extra money.”