MIT Enacts New House Dining PlanBy Hyun Soo Kim
Associate News Editor
All residents of dormitories with dining halls will be required to purchase an $1150-a-year meal plan good for five commons-style meals per week, effective September 1993. The new House Dining Plan was approved by the Academic Council on Jan. 12.
"MIT can no longer afford to operate the food service units at a loss. ARA is a profit-making organization. They don't operate in schools to lose money. ... If it was our decision, we would close the house dining halls," said John T. McNeill, associate director of food services. "MIT has to reimburse us for bottom-line losses.".
The Undergraduate Association President Shally Bansal '93 challenged the benefits of the plan and complained that the plan was announced without student approval or judgment, during a UA meeting last week.
"We are having people from housing and dining services meet with students from the halls at the Feb. 4 UA meeting. We are sending out informational flyers. In some of the dormitories, people have put up sheets to put down opinions about the plan. At MacGregor, it is not being received well," Bansal said.
Under the new meal plan, residents of Baker House, MacGregor House, McCormick Hall, and Next House will be required to purchase five commons-style meals a week at a cost of $8.21 per meal. Currently, only Baker offers commons-style dinners, which cost about $7.35 per meal.
Meals purchased outside of the five-meals-per-week plan can be purchased at a lower price since labor and overhead costs will be covered by the $1150 plan, McNeill said. This price cannot be calculated right now because the budgets for next year have not been done, McNeill said.
McNeill predicts that on average, students will spend an additional $500 over the flat rate of $1150.
"It will be less than if a student went to the Student Center and bought [food] a la carte," McNeill said. He said that a la carte prices would be more expensive because it would have to cover labor and overhead costs of running the service.
Baker House is expected to expand its service and hours. Baker dining hall will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Baker will also serve brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. MacGregor House, McCormick Hall and Next House will continue to be open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The new dining plan is the result of extensive examination of various recommendations made by the House Dining Committee which met last spring. Because of intense student opposition to its recommendations for various dining plans, the committee dissolved without making a final recommendation.
"We are attempting to have the system pay for itself," said McNeill. Currently house dining halls lose close to $500,000 a year, he said.
"Students don't use the system. We provide the service, but no one uses it," McNeill said. The average number of diners during dinner at Baker dining hall last year was 87, and the average amount of money spent on dinner was $5.01, McNeill said.
According to a survey conducted by the House Dining Committee last March, most students said they didn't want the house dining halls to be closed, McNeill said. Almost 90 percent of respondents said they wanted dinner served in their houses on Monday through Thursday. Seventy-five percent wanted it on Friday and 50 percent wanted dinners in their dining halls on weekends.
"The students want this, but they don't want to pay for it. We are trying to meet student interests," McNeill said.
"The house dining plan is a result of several years of examining all aspects. Everybody has looked at this and it is researched very thoroughly. It accomplishes theobjectives: to provide meals to fit student schedules, and to have a plan that pays for itself," said Lawrence E. Maguire, director of housing and food services.
Residents find problems with plan
Many people expressed mixed reactions to the dining plan. One complaint centered on the cost of the commons-style meal.
"We don't like to eat in the dining hall right now. People don't want to eat at all-you-can-eat places at Baker," said Jason B. Thomas '96, a Baker resident.
"One serious reservation [to the plan] is that I know from our survey that many women don't want to eat that much food. I hope they will introduce some way in which a la carte dining can be included in the plan," said Professor William B. Watson, the Baker housemaster. "The dining halls are where communities are built. If we are excluding women by the pricing policy, then you are excluding women in the community."
Watson was also the chairman of the House Dining Committee. "I think it's on the whole a very good plan with flexibility built into it, close to what we decided. I think it's fair that residents of dining halls have to take responsibility for upkeep of the halls," he said.
Margaret S. Roberts '95, a McCormick Hall resident, said she will have to move out of her dorm if the plan is instituted.
"It sucks so bad. There aren't enough words to describe how bad it is. This is an all-girls dorm, and they just don't eat that much. Eight dollars per meal is too much. Usually I spend five to six dollars a meal. ... If they estimate it to be $2000 a year, there is no way I would pay it. If they implement this plan, there will be a lot of people moving. I would have to move," Roberts said.
"What I would prefer, is that if they are losing that much money, that they close the dining hall and turn it into a big lounge," she added.
Michael M. Strong '94, a MacGregor resident, said, "I know people who won't be around during the dinner hours -- especially people who play sports. Even though Baker is open later, it's not easy to go to a dining hall where you don't know anyone."
However, Victoria L. Parson '94, a Baker resident, said, "I row crew, so I am all for anything that offers breakfast at Baker. I like eating at Baker. There's more variety of food -- more than Lobdell. All my friends eat there."
Eileen S. Sun '94, a Next House resident, said, "I think it is inconvenient. Right after class I have a lab and that means I have to go back to eat and then go to lab."
Strong also mentioned that the plan might adversely affect the MacGregor convenience store from which students can purchase goods with their meal cards.