Increasing Meal Plan Flexibility through Dining Points

This year, Princeton introduced a pilot program that adds 250 Dining Points to the Block 95 meal plan. Each point is equivalent to one dollar and can be used at any college dining hall or designated campus eating location. The Board commends the University for implementing this program and listening to student requests regarding dining options. We encourage the University to expand the Dining Points program to more meal plans next year because it increases dining flexibility, benefits low-income students, and can help increase business for campus dining locations.

The Board recommends that the program be extended and adjusted for other meal plans next year. For block plans, we suggest maintaining the existing prices for the plans but adding 150 points and decreasing the number of meal swipes by 15 to account for the new points. Under this plan, the current 235 meal plan would change to 220 meals with 150 points and the current 190 meal plan would change to 175 meals with 150 points. Under the Unlimited plan, there would not be a built-in number of points, but students would have the ability to purchase Dining Points until the deadline to change meal plans ends in October. The cost would either be deducted from the student account surplus, if a student were on full financial aid, or through their student account. The one-point-one-dollar equivalency would remain when buying points, so a student could, for example, purchase 150 points by paying $150.

In addition, we recommend that the University work to allow Dining Points to be used at restaurants on Nassau Street. We encourage USG to work with popular establishments such as Small World, Qdoba, and Panera to accept Dining Points, as it would further diversify student dining options. USG should examine how other institutions such as George Washington University and Harvard have implemented their dining system to include external eating options as references in accomplishing this suggestion.

This expansion is valuable because it increases flexibility that aids students in maximizing their meal plan. Many students, regardless of their meal plan, do not exhaust the entirety of their swipes for several reasons, including not having time for meals in the dining halls throughout the day. Since the University does not currently reimburse students for their extra meal swipes, students are paying for more than what they eat and losing money. With Dining Points, students can eat at their own convenience and therefore fully utilize their meal plans due to the diversity of eating locations and times that the system offers. For example, an engineering student who spends his entire afternoon in the E-Quad can now purchase lunch from the E-Quad Café through his meal plan. Of course, students who prefer to always eat in the dining hall can use their points like dollars to swipe in if they run out of meal swipes. Thus, this proposal only increases flexibility without taking meal value away from students.

Moreover, low-income students with less spending flexibility are positively impacted because Dining Points provide more places for students to dine, especially if they can use their points at various restaurants on Nassau. While the residential dining halls are important in building a sense of community and an integral part of Princeton’s social environment, many students still eat off-campus, which can be alienating to lower-income students. Thus, this Dining Points system will improve students’ social experiences because it gives them an opportunity to occasionally eat out with their friends at no additional cost.

This program not only benefits students but also helps other campus venues such as the Genomics Café and Chancellor Green Café generate business. Typically, these locations are not seen as viable dining options for students because they would rather eat using meal swipes already paid for in their tuition. Because Dining Points extend beyond the dining hall, students will be more likely to eat at these designated locations when convenient. Furthermore, including Dining Points in meal plans increases students’ knowledge that they can use their proxes to dine in other locations and will lead to further exposure of these other campus venues.

Dining is a major part of the Princeton social experience, and the Board commends the University for listening to student input when exploring ways to improve it. We encourage the University to extend the Dining Points program past this year and expand it to include other meal plans and other dining options because of the value this would bring to all students.