Hillside Will No Longer Take Mandatory Dining Funds
Three New Mini Marts Will Open Across Campus
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
When students return to campus in the fall, the new green space on O’Neill Plaza will not be the only noticeable change. In addition, students will notice three new mini marts located across campus – and perhaps shorter lines in Hillside Cafe.
Next fall, Boston College Dining Services will be revamping the mandatory residential dining program in an effort to increase overall revenue and to address the everyday challenges of rising food prices and increasing operating costs. To do so, the current A La Carte system will be modified, adding three new mini marts, but also removing Hillside Cafe from the list of locations that accept mandatory residential plan funds.
Helen Wechsler, director of Dining Services, explained the need for the changes, stating that as a self-sustaining service, BC Dining currently uses student funds to cover their operating cost, rent, facility maintenance, food cost, and labor. With this in mind, Wechsler said at the end of the day there is not enough money left over to address rising food costs and have a general fund available for necessary facilities upgrades and a new dining building. Many students question why mandatory money cannot be refunded at the end of the year, but Wechsler said, “At the end of the fiscal year, there is no money left to refund. We have spent it supporting our program.”
Additionally, Wechsler said BC Dining did not want to compromise the core of the program when addressing current challenges. The core of the BC Dining program includes broad hours of operation, a liberal “A La Carte” system, and integration of the University’s mission of social justice as demonstrated by paying a living wage to employees and supporting over a dozen service trips a year with meal plan donations.
“We want to honor all of these things for customers,” Wechsler said. “We didn’t want to cut our hours of operation, and we didn’t want to take people’s money by semester, so we thought this was as mild as we could be.”
Wechsler said these challenges have not needed to be addressed so drastically in the past as Dining Services has previously worked to reconfigure labor and direct expenses to maintain a break-even bottom line. “Frankly, it’s been a juggle for us,” said Wechsler, who has worked to negotiate food purchasing bids, reduce management labor, and contain operating expenses in the past.
The changes that Dining Services settled on – after considering converting to an “All You Care to Eat” program or full residential participation – will include the previously mentioned mini marts, located in the upper part of Lower Dining Hall, in one half of the Chocolate Bar, and in Stuart Dining Hall on Newton Campus. “Students have been asking for [mini marts] for a number of years,” Wechsler said. “These mini marts will provide greater take-out and ready to eat options, and new supply chain partners will allow us to offer a much broader line of products at more competitive prices.”
The new mini marts will not accept mandatory residential plan funds, but will be competitive with locations such as City Convenience. “The mini marts create a new revenue stream for dining and that helps us support our core program without raising the price of our mandatory program more than 2 percent,” Wechsler said. “This new revenue stream allows us to support plans for future renovations to our dining facilities, including a new dining hall to replace McElroy.”
When discussing the change with accepted funds at Hillside, Wechsler, who met with a student committee for feedback, said she is aware that students may be upset with this change at such a popular dining location. To address concerns, Dining Services will also move $100 from the mandatory residential plan to dining bucks in order to give students on the mandatory plan more discretionary buying power. She also reminds students that the Flex Plan will still be accepted at Hillside.
“The over crowding, therefore significantly diminished customer experience, is the most significant reason we took Hillside off the mandatory residential plan,” Wechsler said. “Our customer counts have grown to just over 4,000 covers a day in a location that was built to service 1,200 per day, and there are simply no expansion opportunities for this concept at this time.”
Students with the mandatory residential plan will now have $4,818 to spend each year, with $350 of those funds for specific use at the Chocolate Bar, Mini Marts, Hillside Cafe, concessions, and vending machines.
To determine how much the mandatory residential meal plan costs, Wechsler said, “Remember that we are a self-sustaining department so the cost of our meal plan must cover the entire scope and breadth of our services. Every year we benchmark our rates and services against 10 other schools – schools that are competing for the same students – and we look at trends of spending and eating across campus.”
In response to students who believe the current mandatory plan is not a fair deal, Wechsler asks, “Can you hire a personal chef to shop and cook for you for less at seven days a week, 18 hours a day? Can you do this and still pay that person a fair living wage with full benefits?”
Finally, Wechsler called upon students to get more involved in the dining process if they have concerns. “If people want more say, they should join the student dining committee,” she said.