Meal Plan or Meal Scam?

By: Dalya Hirt  |  September 14, 2017
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Last year, as I was preparing to begin my first year on the Beren Campus, I was nervous about many aspects of college life. When it was time for me to sign up for the Stern College housing and meal plan, I had concerns only about the residence aspect, which I quickly found out were unfounded–I loved my roommates.  I had no concerns about the meal plan; due to the fact that since it was my first semester, my only choice was to be on the $1,750 per semester plan. I am a picky eater; I knew I probably wouldn’t spend all of the money on dining. Despite this, I figured I could use my caf card at the campus convenience stores to buy toiletries and other necessities. As I spent more time on campus, however, I realized this was not the case. My pre-school jitters had washed away, yet instead of feeling a sense of relief, a new stress arose. The enormity of my meal plan began to concern me.

As I settled into routine, I realized that although I was eating my meals in the cafeteria, I wasn’t spending nearly enough to finish the plan by the end of the semester.  I had heard that the store in the Schottenstein dorm building sold items such as toilet paper which would be a smart way for me to use the remainder of my caf money. Yet whenever I went to 29th street, they were conveniently out of such items. After a few unsuccessful trips, I gave up on the Schott store, choosing to go to the geographically convenient Duane Reade for toilet paper runs. Unfortunately, that was not as financially convenient.

Now, in addition to my $1,750 per-semester meal plan, I was paying out of pocket for items at Duane Reade that I had thought I’d be able to buy at the YU convenience store with my caf money. This is a problem I frequently discussed with fellow first year Brookdale residents while riding the jam-packed Stern elevators. I found that most of them shared my struggle. The minority of first year Brookdale residents who didn’t view this as such a problem were those who were willing to go all the way to the Heights, where the student stores are more frequently restocked, to buy non-food items.

While I was not yet desperate enough to shuttle back and forth to the Heights to shop at the YC convenience store, I decided to try to make more of an effort to spend more money in the Stern cafeterias. For some, that probably does not sound like too difficult a task, but for me, it was.

The first issue I had was the fact that the Beren campus cafeterias don’t open until 8:30 a.m. As an early riser, I couldn’t wait that long for my morning coffee, and had to resort to alternate options, such as the Starbucks between Park and Lexington. Being that I woke up earlier, I got hungry earlier as a result. I would try to remember to buy something from the caf the day before to have for breakfast the next morning. Unfortunately,  I usually forgot, so cafeteria breakfast just wasn’t a practical option for me. Lunch, on the other hand, I was very consistent with. However, my lunch would never cost more than $15.00, and in the scheme of things, this didn’t amount to very much.

When it came to dinner, it was a fight against the clock.  If I was able to get to the cafeteria within the first hour of dinner service, it was great; I would spend around the same amount of money as I did at lunch. The catch was that if I came a little bit later, there would be no food left, or at least nothing fresh to eat. It didn’t help that the caf food is not all that enticing; since my friends and I were not eager to eat it, we did not usually prioritize getting there early. We would end up going to one of the restaurants where we could use our Omni money, like Mendy’s, which is conveniently located, always has fresh food, and is open late.

Spending the Omni money was easy; I could use it at great local restaurants and the sum wasn’t very much in the scheme of things. However, the problem of my large, nonrefundable sum of regular caf money still remained. In fact, I somehow still had $1,700 left after Spring Break. Since this money would not be usable after the last day of Spring Semester, I panicked.

I didn’t want all the money to go to waste, so, I began offering to pay for other people’s food who were waiting in line with me to pay in the caf. Since so many other girls were looking to spend all of their money too, though, no one wanted to take me up on that offer. I also had a cousin who had just started at YC in the Post-Pesach program who didn’t have a meal plan, so I gave him my ID number, knowing he eats more than me and he’d probably be able to help me use the money. For the first few days of the Post-Pesach program this plan worked well, but as soon as the cafeteria employees noticed this trend of male students using ID numbers at YC to buy caf food, they stopped allowing it.

Though this was upsetting, I came up with an alternate plan to ensure my money wouldn’t go to waste. I started buying non-perishable items that my family could use, and gradually sent them back home to Lawrence. This too went well at first, but once again the cafeteria employees noticed a trend, as I was most certainly not the only student who was trying this strategy. They implemented a new rule that students cannot spend over $100 of caf money in one day, which made it even more challenging for me to make use of the remaining sum on my meal plan. Not only did this leave me with about $1000 left on my caf card at the end of the school year but it made me jump to some conclusions about Yeshiva University and the student meal services.

It is apparent that the caterer and the school, by extension, really do not want students to use up their meal plans. Students who live on campus are forced to be on a large meal plan which isn’t fair because the food isn’t even that good (and one would expect that YU should have the best kosher food so it’s very deceiving). The only conclusion I was able to come to is that someone is making a profit off of our remaining cafeteria money. It’s unclear whether that money is going to the caterer or to the university itself, but it’s clear that students shouldn’t be obligated to sign up for a meal plan that is larger than necessary. Additionally, the school should refund all of the students who, like me, were cheated by the University dining services.

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