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Eat Your Heart Out

The second of a three-part series

By Lisa N. Brennan-jobs

When Ritu Bapat and her four suitemates at Brown missed dinner last week, they went to the Ivy Room, an on-campus restaurant, at about 12:30 a.m.

While there, they had the choice between purchasing an omelet, a smoothie, falafel or burgers and fries, all of which they could pay for in exchange for the dinner they missed.

"It's very flexible," says Bapat of Brown's policy that allows students to acquire credit at late-night campus restaurants for missed meals.

Meanwhile, students who miss meals at Harvard are not reimbursed. Although they always have the option to go to Loker and use some of their $50 in Board Plus money, most opt to dine at local restaurants and pay for it out of their own pockets.

Although it is rare to find a gourmet meal at any college, dining options vary greatly at other schools. Meal plans differ in their cost, food quality and flexibility. Some plans offer compensation when meals are missed; others allow students to eat at local restaurants.

A Crimson survey of students and administrators at Brown, Princeton, Stanford and Yale, four schools across the nation with similar-sized student bodies, shows that although Harvard Dining Services (HDS) has made strides in recent years in improving campus cuisine, it is still lacking in much of the flexibility that other college meal plans provide.

Free to Decide

At Harvard, students have two choices for their meal plan: take it or leave it. Those who choose to eat in house dining halls must pay for 21 meals per week.

Such is not the case at other colleges. Of the four schools surveyed, all offer a selection of meal plans that allow students to choose the number of meals per week they wish to purchase.

Stanford, for example, provides three options; students choose between 19, 14 or 12 meal-per-week plans.

According to students at Stanford, most don't opt for the full plan.

"No one gets a 19 meal plan except the athletes," says Shalini Bhargava a first-year at Stanford. "Everyone eats 14 meals per week."

Indeed, reduced meal plans are very popular at schools at which they are offered.

At Yale, a third of upperclass students opt for its 14-meal-per-week plan, according to Allen R. Kenney, Yale's director of food services.

A similar percentage choose to purchase the 14-meal plan at Princeton, according to Stu J. Orefice, Princeton's director of dining services.

But at Princeton, students can also choose to join one of the elite eating clubs, that is, if they don't mind spending about $4500 per year on food.

Although the clubs are not university sponsored, many student choose to join them, according to Orefice.

Harvard students say they lament the lack of comparable choices.

"I eat probably 12 or 13 meals per week," says Mark L. Meatto '99. "I'd prefer not to pay for more."

"I think its a rip-off," says Peter F. O'Brien '00 "I don't think I've ever had 21 meals per week. I usually have 14. The meal plan isn't fair.

Ted A. Mayer, Harvard's incoming director of dining services, says he is aware that students don't eat the full 21 meals they pay for.

"On average students eat 13 to 14 meals per week," Mayer says. "So that's what we base our budget around."

A Free Lunch?

But what becomes of those seven to eight meals per week that each student misses?

At Brown, students receive credit for any missed meals.

The Ivy Room is one of three campus restaurants that stay open until 1 a.m. and cater to students' late night cravings. Although the cafe excepts cash, students often redeem lost meals for which they receive $3.25 in "credit."

"It's a regular social function," says Bapat of the eatery. "If you're trying to meet a guy, you can say, 'Let's meet for credit!' Most people 'do credit' between 11 and one."

"At Brown, there's definitely a trend for late-night dining," says Gretchen M. Wills, Brown's director of dining services. "37 percent of meals are served after dinner hours."

Princeton offers a similar credit system for missed meals. Whenever students skip breakfast, lunch or dinner, they receive compensation of $2.50, $3.50 or $4.50, respectively.

The college provides a late-night service at the dining halls between 8 to 10 p.m. for students who missed meals.

"We call our late-night option, 'The Late-Show' and we thought of that name before David Letterman," Orefice says.

Princeton students say they appreciate the late-night service.

"I play soccer so if practice goes late and we miss dinner, I don't miss out on a meal," says Andrea N. Herschman, a first-year at Princeton.

Crimson Crumbs

Harvard dining halls are not as accommodating. After 7:30 p.m. it is impossible to get a meal in any of the houses.

Last year when HDS instituted the Board Plus system, it appeared as a way to create more flexibility. The plan allocated students $50 per semester to purchase food at any of Harvard's nine eateries including Loker Commons and The Greenhouse.

However with Loker cutting down its operating hours this year and with the high cost of food at campus establishments, students still gripe that it's not enough to compensate for all the meals they miss.

"I wish that if I wanted to eat at the off-times they had a place to go," says Robert E. Schlesinger '00.

"I feel like given the amount of money we pay for food, you shouldn't lose the money if you miss a meal. You should be able to eat three times a day at your convenience, not theirs," he says.

Although Board Plus is a new option at Harvard, other schools have similar plans that offer more flexibility for students.

At Yale, if students purchase the 14-meal plan, they also receive $200 worth of "Flex Points," which can be used at local restaurants like the nearby pizzeria Naples and at Au Bon Pain.

"We can't provide the late-night options," says Alan R. Kenney, Yale's director of food services. "Flex Points are a way to solve this problem."

Other colleges have similar plans. Stanford offers students $522 per year in "Cardinal Cash" to be used at 10 on-campus eateries, including a smoothie bar, a sports cafe and a grab-n-go pre-packaged food cafeteria, according to Dianne S. MacDaniels, Stanford's meal plan coordinator.

Brown and Princeton offer point-based systems as well, similar to Stanford and Harvard's Board Plus.

Too Costly?

Although Harvard's plan appears to offer much less flexibility than the four other meal-plans, it is similar in cost.

Harvard's take-it-or-leave-it meal plan goes for $3336 per year. The plan's cost stands in the middle of the four colleges full 19 to 21 meal-per-week plans. Stanford charges $3920, Princeton's meal plan costs $3425, Yale, $3100 and Brown, $2552.

But all offer at least one plan with reduced meals that costs less than Harvard's one choice deal.

Although students have called for a more flexible plan in the past, Board Plus has been one of the few large concessions from HDS in recent years.

When asked whether a more flexible plan was in the works for Harvard, Mayer says he is hesitant to promise changes at this point.

"I'm not familiar with the details yet," says Mayer who will officially take charge of HDS on June 1.

However, Mayer expresses concern over changes that would jeopardize Harvard's "unique and exceptional" house system.

With a more meal plan, Mayer says, "You might end up eroding the system that Harvard has."

"You might run the risk of people leaving and not going to houses to eat," he says.

But despite Yale's flexible system, students say the plan doesn't hinder the College's meal-time ambiance.

"After a long day, it's nice to go to a place where you can see all of your friends," says Michael J. Burstein, a sophomore at Yale.

"[The dining halls] are the focus of the college community," he says.

Universal Gripes

Despite varied meal plans, students at all colleges find common ground in complaining about their school's food.

"[Brown's Dining Services] try to experiment with ethnic dishes," says Bapat. "They're an insult to my Indian heritage."

At Yale, complaints are similar.

"You can't expect too much in general from institutional food," says Burstein. "[The food at Yale] is not that great."

Nor does Harvard reign supreme.

"The food is fine [at Harvard], not terrific," says Meatto, who has eaten at both Harvard and Yale. "The food at Yale is comparable."

So even if Harvard does end up offering a more flexible meal plan, students shouldn't expect the whining over Savory Baked Tofu to stop.

After all, you can't have your cake and eat it too.


DINING OPTIONS: Brown uses a "flex points" system combined with a regular meal plan. Students can purchase 20, 14, 10 or seven meals per week and receive additional points for use at campus food establishments.

POINTS SYSTEM: Brown's point system provides students with a $3.25 snack credit for each meal missed during the week. Students also receive 100 points (equivalent to 100 dollars) with the 20 meal plan.

DINING LOCATIONS: Three restaurants offer service from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.: Joziah's a greasy spoon, Ivy Room, an all vegitarian cafe and The Gate, a snack food cafe.


DINING OPTIONS: All students are required to purchase a plan of 21 meals per week, although on average students eat 13 to 14 of those meals.

POINTS SYSTEM: The Board Plus plan provides students with $50 per semester to spend at any of Harvard's nine University-run restaurants or in dining halls to treat visitors.

DINING LOCATIONS: Harvard boasts its system of 13 residential house dining halls. Additionally, HDS maintains restaurant and cafes at a number of locations spread across the University's campuses.


DINING OPTIONS: Many upperclass students here choose to forego options offered by dining services and join pricey eating clubs. First-years and sophomores must choose between the 20 or 14 meal options offered by the University.

POINTS SYSTEM: Like at Brown, students receive credit for missed meals. Unlike Brown, however, students receive different amounts of credit depending upon the meal missed. Also, the credit is not cumulative, and expires the same day it is earned.

DINING LOCATIONS: Princeton's food court includes a pizza and pasta restaurant, a grille, a grab-n-go, a frozen yogurt stand and a deli.


DINING OPTIONS: Students in Palo Alto benefit from a flexible meal plan system, allowing them to purchase either 19, 14 or 12 meals per week. The Stanford meal plan also features a point system known as Cardinal Cash, and allows students to operate on a declining balance through the trimester.

POINTS SYSTEM: The Cardinal Cash system allows students to purchase food at a variety of campus locations. Students receive 186 dollars in the fall trimester, 170 in the winter and 166 in the spring.

DINING LOCATIONS: Students can choose between ten campus eateries, including a Sports cafe and a smoothie bar.


DINING OPTIONS: Yale students can either purchase a meal plan of 21 meals per week, or one including both 14 meals per week and 200 dollars per year in "flex points." However, first-years and sophomores can only purchase the 21 meal plan.

POINTS SYSTEM: Flex points can be used to purchase meals on and off campus.

DINING LOCATIONS: Yale students can use their flex points to purchase meals at any of the on-campus dining services, as well as four off-campus eateries, including Au Bon Pain and Naples, a local pizzeria.

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