The recent changes in meal plan policies and offerings have indeed struck a chord for many at Penn, as evidenced by the numerous articles and editorials that have appeared recently in The Daily Pennsylvanian. Campus Dining Services values the passionate feedback we've received in recent weeks, and we would like the opportunity to respond. We also believe it is important to set the record straight for those who would appreciate having all of the information presented before drawing their own conclusions. This spring, Campus Dining Services was faced with an unprecedented and unexpected shift in revenues, due largely to meal plan cancellations and buy downs -- the wake of Houston Market's popularity and a symptom of dissatisfaction among many of our dining hall customers. Because Dining Services is not charged with generating profits, we rely on every dollar of our revenue to staff and operate the college house dining facilities and deliver a food program that will meet the high expectations of our customers. In order to do that, we need to be able to forecast our meal plan sales expectations with some degree of accuracy. Closing down a facility might have been one way to solve this shortfall. However, because dining is a cornerstone of the College House System, we had to look at alternatives for stabilizing our revenues. Instead, we looked at our meal plan policies and contract terms, and revised those that jeopardized our dining program. In addition to underscoring the importance of Penn's College House System, the first-year student meal plan policy will help to stabilize dining revenues. Indeed, most of our peer institutions have some kind of built-in fiscal stability necessary to run a housing and dining program. However, it is the revised meal plan offerings and the new contract terms and conditions that actually offer the greatest stabilizing effects. The specific changes in our offerings and policies are apparently the topic of some confusion. Allow me to clarify these for the record. It has been reported that students buying declining meal plans will be forced to purchase a minimum of 160 meals per semester. This is incorrect. All of our meal plans are yearly plans. We will offer a 160- and a 220-meal plan (which work out to about 5 and 6 meals per week, respectively). We will also offer a 110-meal plan to upperclassmen living off-campus. The cost of a meal at the dining halls has also been debated. As with anything else, there is a cost benefit for increased commitment; those who purchase a 19-meal plan, for example, pay as little as $5.88 for any all-you-care-to-eat meal. Although we have instituted a no-cancellation policy for the year, it is important to note that students who register early for a meal plan (April 23-May 11) may change or cancel their plans between July 1 and August 1 without penalty. Another important change is that meal plan holders may change their meal plans only once per year, in the spring. To balance this change, however, Dining Services has taken great care to describe all of the meal plan choices clearly so students make better, more informed choices up front -- something that our dining customers have been requesting. We have, in fact, aggressively sought out customer feedback. From surveys, focus groups (including current and former meal plan customers) and monthly Dining Advisory Board meetings, we have heard what students want. In response, this fall we will roll out "Penn Dining," a new program featuring more of the foods and services that students have requested. We are very excited about this program and we invite all students to give us another look. No one likes change -- especially when it seems to be made without our input. No one likes having to deliver unwelcome news, either. For me it's been especially difficult having to make unpopular decisions that are actually meant to improve a situation and increase satisfaction. But at a certain point, we at Dining Services owe it to our core customers to do what it takes to deliver a program that is valued and appreciated. Campus Dining Services has always prided itself on making customer feedback a priority and we intend to continue doing so. It is in the spirit of customer service that these changes have been made. We hope that someday soon our sincere efforts will earn us renewed trust by our fans and a change of heart from our critics.Comments powered by Disqus
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