The fee for the Preferred Dining program is set to increase $25 in the fall, drawing student criticism of dining at MIT. The announcement coincided with the introduction of buffet-style dinners at Pritchett Dining last Monday. The cost of Preferred Dining has already jumped $75 since fall 2005, setting the current price at $300.
In addition, the long-awaited Subway in the Lobdell Food Court is expected to be completed by the end of this month. Construction was started in January 2007 after delays. The vendor was originally expected to arrive in late August 2006, according to a June 9, 2006 Tech article.
Anne W. Wilson, marketing specialist at the Campus Activities Complex, said that the fee "increases incrementally with inflation." The increase is to cover subsidies and increasing costs of wages and food, according to Richard D. Berlin III, director of campus dining.
"We've been increasing [the cost] by $25 for a number of years and the increase as a percentage of the total fee is dropping," Berlin said. He added that the Institute subsidizes the program by about $500,000 a year and he said he hopes that students will take up part of the cost.
The major complaint about Preferred Dining is that people who live in dormitories that require the program cannot leave the contract without moving to a different dorm.
"Students should not be forced out of the dorm they feel most comfortable in just because they cannot afford the Preferred Dining fee," said Batya A. Fellman '08, chair of the Undergraduate Association Committee on Dining. Dormitory Council Dining Chair Allison M. Jacobs '08 said that "MIT students are economically minded and there comes a point where it is just not financially worthwhile to buy into the meal plan."
Berlin said that the Preferred Dining program is very concerned about students. Next House dining, for instance, stays open until 9 p.m. to cater for athletes and other students who come home late although in purely economical terms it makes little sense to keep Next House dining open until 9 p.m., he said.
Preferred Dining fee increase is not the only campus dining program facing disapproval from students. The all-you-care-to-eat buffet-style arrangement at Pritchett Dining introduced on Monday is already under criticism. For $8.50, students may eat as much as they want from 69 p.m. Monday through Friday at Pritchett Dining. A la carte service is no longer offered, students cannot take food out, and must stay within the dining hall if they wish to go for more rounds of food, according to Wilson. Students on the Preferred Dining plan pay $4.25.
Jacobs said that the buffet-style plan at Pritchett will turn away students who don't want to spend $8.50 on a meal. "Pritchett used to pride itself on being $6 or less," Jacobs added. She said that this will encourage students to overeat and fears that "the quality of food will decrease since it will be cooked in mass quantities and not individually."
Berlin stated that the food quality at Pritchett will not change.
East Campus President Sarah C. Hopp '08 said that the changes at Pritchett were implemented without notice to East Campus residents. "Springing things like this upon students unannounced and without input shows what appears to be a lack of respect for students by the administration," said Hopp.
Jacobs said that she only found out about the buffet-style arrangement at Pritchett on Monday "when I looked at the campus dining Web site for another reason."
Berlin said that Campus Dining received about 100 responses from a previous survey and "about half of the students said they liked the all you care to eat idea." Wilson said that Pritchett was chosen for this program because the survey responses indicated that AYCTE would be "more appropriate in east campus."
Berlin said that Pritchett Dining is not well patronized and he hopes AYCTE will "increase participation at Pritchett." Berlin said that Baker and Next House dining each see about 300 customers per night but Pritchett serves only about 7585 people out of the about 500 people living in East Campus and Senior House. Berlin explained that by design, undergraduates on the east side of campus tend to cook for themselves. He said that the AYCTE program is not meant to change the culture in east campus but rather to give residents an additional option, adding that AYCTE will also serve west campus residents that "have labs that keep them on campus.
Wilson said that the idea for AYCTE came about because "some people prefer a bigger meal. [AYCTE] is an experiment we're trying out," Berlin said.
Survey to be released
"We will be introducing a survey early next week that will, among other things, hopefully understand the effect of these fee increases, as well as student preference for a variety of other ideas MIT Dining is considering for some of the dining halls, including AYCTE," said Fellman. Baker House Dining Committee is also conducting a survey of Baker House residents and will release a report on Monday, said David Dryjanski '07, a member of the committee.
These surveys come at a time when some students believe campus dining is not seeking student input. Jacobs said that she feels the changes at Pritchett "will make students less trusting of Campus Dining because this decision was made without student feedback. I personally have been trying to set up a feedback session about Pritchett to see if students want it to be AYCTE or not," she added.
Hopp also expressed concerns that campus dining does not take student opinion into account. "Students complain of high prices, but the prices still go up. Students complain that the dining Web site doesn't have useful up-to-date menu information so they'd rather go to campusfood.com, but the Web site remains stagnant," she said.
Preferred Dining membership is open to all students and is mandatory for undergraduates in Baker House, McCormick Hall, Next House, and Simmons Hall, with the exception of seniors in McCormick. Berlin said that Preferred Dining was not required of McCormick Hall residents when the current senior class moved in as freshmen in 2003. "Each year another class is added," hence Preferred Dining will be required of all residents living in McCormick next year. McCormick seniors who moved in after program membership became mandatory for McCormick Hall students are also not required to be in the program. Berlin said that the Preferred Dining fee is refunded to students who move residences and are charged on a prorated basis for students who join the program later in the term.
"Preferred Dining Members enjoy a 50 percent discount on most purchases at the four House Dining locations, at Pritchett Dining, the Simmons Late Night Café and for Friday Sabbath dinners at Kosher Dining," according to the campus dining Web site.