When Epicurean and Company (Epi’s) declined Sang Doan’s (COL ’24) meal exchange, citing insufficient meal swipes on his GoCard, Doan was baffled. As a junior living on campus, he is required by university policy to purchase the “14 Weekly +$250 Flex” meal plan. To his knowledge—and according to Hoya Hospitality’s website at the beginning of the school year—this plan includes 14 meal swipes, as well as seven meal exchanges, per week, which should tally to three meals per day.
Doan had used up his meal swipes for the week, but thought that he could safely rely on using one of his meal exchanges at Epi’s, which was recently incorporated into the meal plan as a meal exchange location.
“Epi’s declined my meal exchange, and they told me to use flex instead,” Doan explained in an email to the Voice. Contrary to his belief, employees at Epi’s told him that the 14-Weekly plan does not offer 21 meals per week in total, but only 14 meals—the seven meal exchanges, he learned, are included in the 14 meals, not in addition to them.
Doan decided to revisit the meal plan policy. “I went on the website and saw that they changed the information on the meal plans—quietly!” Doan wrote. The section that explains the 14-Weekly plan now reads “14 Swipes per week (includes up to 7 meal exchanges per week).” A few weeks ago, the website advertised the meal plan as including “14 Swipes per week” and “7 meal exchanges per week” as separate components, according to archives from Sept. 1.
“The official stance of GUSA, as well as the administration, is that nothing has changed,” a GUSA spokesperson told the Voice after meeting with Auxiliary Business, the administrative department that oversees meal plans and Hoya Hospitality locations. “They can’t change anything, just because they can’t change something in the middle of the year.”
The structure of the 14-Weekly plan, GUSA explained, had not changed: The plan has always only included 14 total meals per week. The change in policy verbiage, however, contrary to its intent to clarify the policy, has nonetheless alarmed students. “This is potentially a miscommunication from before the semester started and well into the semester,” Doan wrote. “At best, this is management negligence. At worst, this is false marketing.”
According to university policy, students currently on the 14-Weekly meal plan can upgrade it to one of the “All Access 7” options, which provides unlimited meal swipes to The Table at Leo’s but at an elevated cost.
Despite the meal plan’s high costs, Leo’s has been criticized by the student body for its limited hours and options. The new addition of Epi’s as a meal-exchange-compliant location was supposed to alleviate this problem, but for students with a limited meal plan and a tight budget, it serves little.
The 14-Weekly plan costs $3,060 per semester, a difference of only about 300 dollars to the “All Access 7 + $200 Flex,” for three less meals a day. This means that on average, students on the 14-Weekly plan pay $13.50 for each meal. Certain dining stations on campus, however, have unique caveats which make them less accessible for students on this plan. At the Bodega station in upstairs Leo’s, for example, one meal swipe can redeem students a sandwich or wrap with a bag of chips; other sides, like fruit cups, require an additional meal swipe. This year at Whisk one meal swipe is redeemable for a pastry and a coffee; last semester, Whisk charged students four meal swipes for a large coffee.
When a student runs out of meal swipes, they have to resort to using Flex or personal spending. The 14-Weekly plan includes $250 in Flex, but this resource can exhaust quickly due to menu pricing at on-campus locations. Without a meal swipe, downstairs Leo’s charges $14.78 for breakfast, $18.64 for lunch, and $20.91 for dinner. At Epi’s, popular sandwiches typically cost over $10. With a meal exchange at the Epi’s buffet, students are charged Flex in addition to the meal exchange if their buffet food is over a weight quota.
“I ran out of meals a number of times [in the past weeks] and had to use my own money to buy food, which was inconvenient and expensive,” Doan wrote. “I never skipped meals, but it wouldn’t surprise me if people on the 14-Weekly plan do.”
The Hoya Hospitality website is the only place where detailed descriptions for meal plans are available. For students who are new to campus or experiencing a significant change in their meal plan as they move from an underclassman to upperclassman, the language presented on the website is the student’s sole source of information in determining their meal plan selection and dining experience for an entire school year.
To some, the difference is simply a small miscommunication.“[Auxiliary Business is] not going to change the meal plan, or any plans, or any rearrangement of swipes,” the GUSA spokesperson said. “There might’ve been a typo on the website, and that could be it.”
But to others, however, the difference meant false expectations. “Hoya Hospitality should not sweep aside the problem as merely a communication blunder,” Doan wrote.