First-year Meal Plan Changes Seek to Balance Dining Options, Provide Students with More Flexibility and Choice

Emma Pettit-

The new first-year meal plan is an attempt to reduce the crowd in the Union and increase usage of Commons. This academic year, the incoming class of about 520 new students has, by default, sixteen meal swipes a week with 400 dining dollars, and the choice to opt into the twenty-one swipes and 100 dining dollars plan, instead of requiring twenty-one during the first semester and reserving the choice for the spring.

With the increase in dining dollars to the sixteen meal plan, comes new limitations. First-years can no longer use meal equivalencies at the Union’s Davis Café, causing many to congregate at Commons for lunch and dinner.

Manager of Cat Card Services Anne Cavett sees the plan as an expansion of options. She explained that first-years “can always eat at Commons, Wildcat Den lunch on weekdays, Union café late night, and we are working to get Union Station to work within the parameters of the meal plan to work as a meal swipe for a quick grab and go. If they want to eat at the Café, they have so many more dining dollars to do so.”

“Also by going to the sixteen with more dining dollars, that gives first-years more flexibility; you can eat lunch at Commons, and then later go to the Café with friends and get something there too without being constrained with the meal equivalency rules,” said Cavett.

These changes were enacted because the Davis Café was overcrowded last year with no choice to expand either the space or number of staff. Cavett recounted, “The turnaround time was slowing down, and we looked for a lot of options to try and manage that crowd at the Café and the option we chose was to not grant meal equivalencies to first-year students.”

This is part of an ongoing effort to keep the Union a “small option and a quicker venue for the whole campus. Until a couple years ago, students couldn’t start getting meal equivalencies until 2pm, and then last year we opened it up to that traditional lunch hour. Last year was the first year that you could basically get meal plan equivalencies at the Café at all hours of the day excluding turnaround times between meals.”

The numbers show the Union’s popularity. During one week in November 2016, among students who had the twenty-one meal plan (mostly first-year students), there was a range of 1-19 meals at the Union Café, and an average of 6.77 meals at Union that week. For those with the sixteen meal plan, the range was 1-13 with an average of 6.3.

Cavett explained, “We looked at that number and thought it was a really identifiable number of people and a large volume that we could channel better.”

Some first-years feel like they are at a loss without the Union meal swipe. Anderson McNeil ’21 said, “I feel like it’s age discrimination and they should be encouraging us, as freshmen, to be trying all different meal options regardless of the time of day.”

On the other hand, Malcolm McCabe ’20 has benefitted from the new sixteen-meal plan at the same price as last year but with 100 more dining dollars. He appreciates the better deal and fewer people at the Union but concedes that “there are some days when I go to Commons, and it’s so crowded.”

Cavett acknowledges this circumstance and added, “Commons can handle a big crowd in terms of food preparation and in terms of seats. We know there are lines this time of year, and in a couple weeks those lines will dissipate somewhat. When the college went to the mandatory meal plan four years ago, one thing President Carol Quillen touted was having that community experience in Commons, and we hoped that that would be an unintended consequence of this plan.”

Rosemary Turner has been working at Davidson since 1989 and loves interacting with students at the Davis Café. She reflected, “I really like what they’ve done with the sixteen-meal plan where they have 400 dining dollars which helps students out a lot. A lot of them don’t want a big breakfast and will save that swipe for late night. They can come here, study, and order a quesadilla.”

Despite the fewer swipes, Turner hasn’t “actually noticed fewer people since a lot of freshmen come to grab a bagel and cream cheese in the morning for two or three dining dollars, and come back around 9pm to use their late night meal swipe.”

With larger class sizes, Cat Card Services and the administration will strive to determine the best way to distribute the growing demand among the available resources at Davidson while preserving the communal dining experience.