The Advance-Titan

UW Oshkosh dining to increase meal flexibility

Natasha Zwijacz

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UW Oshkosh Dining Services increased the cost of meal plans in 2013, which gave students increased flexibility along with it. As the contract renewal approaches in 2019 they are looking to increase availability.

Marty Strand, assistant director of dining services, said UWO is looking into and putting a proposal together for an unlimited all-access meal plan.

“We want to have an all-access plan that would work in Blackhawk [Commons] only and then Blackhawk would be open seven days a week,” Strand said. “Students would then be able to come and go as many times as they want during operating hours.”

Elliott Verkuilen, a Donner Hall resident, said an all-access plan is interesting but people already complain about Blackhawk food.

“If Blackhawk is open seven days a week, that would be the only place students could eat,” Verkuilen said. “The students would have fewer food options and they would lose out on the diversity at Reeve.”

Back in 2012, when the contract was up, UWO cut down the block meal plans and made up for it in Titan Dollars.

“To add variety to the meal plans, UWO made Reeve Memorial Union a retail location for students to be able to get several different items rather than just one meal,” Strand said.

“We went from an exchange meal to a more retail option,” Strand said. “Now it’s more like a meal equivalency, but we know that the meal swipe isn’t enough which is why we added Titan Dollars.”

A set of documents from dining services indicates that meal plan prices have been increasing 1.5 to 4 percent every year since 2013.

Strand said each year the price of food provided by Sodexo rises in price resulting in the rise of meal plan cost.

“Price increases are based on quite a few things, not just food,” Strand said. “Utilities, maintenance and upkeep of facilities, like the elevators. We just recently changed out all the air handlers in Blackhawk because they were the same ones, with minor renovations, since the beginning of the building.”

Randy Hedge, director at Reeve Memorial Union, said there is an attempt to make meal plans equal to food prices, but it’s hard to keep up.

“Food prices increase 2 to 5 percent after being benchmarked against prices of competition,” Hedge said. “Meal plans are then priced competitively but sometimes restaurants or other campus’ raise the prices higher than we can equate the meal plans.”

Strand said the all-access plan is intended to help students eat healthier than they do now.

“Students go in and overeat to get the most out of their one meal swipe,” Strand said. “With the all-access plan they wouldn’t be over eating and would possibly choose healthier options.”

With the plan only being available to use at Blackhawk, Strand said dining services would add benefits to the other plans.

“For the other locations on campus we would just add Titan Dollars to the plans,” Strand said. “However, meals were never intended for use anywhere but Blackhawk which is why students have to use Titan Dollars on top of a meal swipe for select meals in Reeve.”

Strand said the lack of food options at Blackhawk is being taken into consideration while making their proposal.

“What we serve in Blackhawk changes every year but we’re still trying to keep up-to-date with what the students want,” Strand said. “To change up the locations in Blackhawk, and make it a visible difference, would help the students who are over having the same menu items all the times.”

Strand said UWO is renovating the Blackhawk dining areas in order to make them more welcoming.

“If students get an all-access plan they’ll only be allowed to use their meal plan in Blackhawk so we want to make it a more welcoming environment,” Strand said. “Currently there are going to be three different themed areas to eat which would hopefully make eating in Blackhawk a more inviting experience.”

An all-access plan is really only ideal for the first-year students Strand said.

“When the plans were put into place in 2013 most students were using their Titan Dollars in the bookstore instead of for food,” Strand said. “They would then run out and get upset because they didn’t have enough.”

Strand said UWO offered dining dollars with meal plans instead of Titan Dollars at one point.

“In the future I feel dining dollars would be a benefit to us so we can see what students are spending,” Strand said. “We are now allowing students to purchase up to $250 Titan Dollars and charge their student accounts. This would solve any complaints students had about not getting Titan Dollars from their meal plans anymore.”

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
UW Oshkosh dining to increase meal flexibility