There are few things that I find distracting while doing work on the Stokes bridge, but when campus tour guides arrive at the top of the stairs overlooking the Chocolate Bar, I can’t help but turn my head at what comes out of the tour guides’ mouths. While stopping at a spot overlooking the Chocolate Bar may act as a smooth segue into talking about meal plan options at BC, I can’t help but to divert my attention to the tour guides’ inexplicably exuberant spiel.
Among the tour guide’s talking points are the benefits of having completely school-run dining halls—as opposed to an outsourced operation—and the a la carte nature of the dining halls, which allows students to take food to go. But it’s what the tour guides don’t talk about that really drives me insane, because even current students are not always aware of the potentially misleading elements of BC dining.
BC’s website has a page with a detailed explanation of the reasoning behind a mandatory meal plan, as well as a comparison with other mandatory meal plans at similar schools such as Boston University and Georgetown. A table is provided to steer prospective students in what is seemingly the right direction.
There are a couple of misleading aspects to this table, though.
First, BC states that meal plan money is available at eight of 15 campus dining locations, without explaining that two (Stuart and Cafe 129) aren’t even located on main campus, and that two other locations are, in reality, parts of other dining halls (Lower and Addie’s are counted separately, as are McElroy and Eagle’s Nest). So in reality, there are only three different physical locations on the main campus to use meal plan money (Lower, Mac, and the Rat), while Stuart and Cafe 129 are located on Newton and Brighton respectively, and thus are virtually inaccessible to most of the student body. Under the same category of “locations accepting meal plan funds,” Georgetown has one of six, and BU has three of four.
The next misleading aspect of this chart is a combination of the second, third, and fourth columns, labeled “meal plan cost,” “meals per week,” and “type of plan,” respectively. At $5106, BC’s plan is the least expensive on the chart, followed by Georgetown ($5242) and BU ($5250). Although all three institutions are afforded the ability to have “unlimited” meals, the third column, which labels BC as having an la carte plan, as opposed to Georgetown and BU’s “traditional” plans, is something that should be explained.
While BC dining is all run by the school, and students are allowed to take dining hall food to go, the “a la carte” system (meaning that food can be ordered separately) means that each individual item is charged, its cost being deducted from students’ original $5106 balance. Traditional meal plans at Georgetown and BU require a card swipe to enter the dining hall, but allow students to eat as much or as little as they wish each time they are at the dining hall, with no effect on how much they will be allowed to use for the rest of the academic year. While these plans are marginally more expensive, each student is fully aware that they won’t be either a) starving 3 weeks before finals even start, or b) spending hundreds of dollars on overpriced cases of water and snacks at the end of the semester just to put to use the remainder of the balance. With the traditional meal plans, unlike at BC, there is no uncertainty involved with food accessibility due to cost (as there shouldn’t be anyway, with a school that comes with a $60,000 price tag).
Though there are benefits to an internalized, a la carte dining system, students and parents should be aware that the student, in addition to being required to spend over five thousand dollars per year on food alone, is limited to a budget of $5100 dollars on menus with prices that are set by the school itself.
BC is a four-year, private, non-profit institution with an endowment of over two billion dollars, not a boutique cafe–and people should know the benefits and caveats of the system the school tries so hard to promote.
Photo One . Photo Two: author’s own