Don’t Choose Your Dining Plan Yet

Three meal plans are extremely overpriced. The Any 15 Meals plans cost about $400 more than the value they offer. The Any 10 Meals Plus plan overcharges by an astonishing $709.

Next semester, Grinnell’s dining hall will have longer hours and reusable “to-go” boxes. While certainly nice additions, how much extra are you willing to pay for those services? Depending on your dining plan, you may be paying up to $709 more than you would pay at the door.

The GUM calculated the value of each meal plan and found that all seven of the plans are too expensive when using the prices charged for breakfast, lunch, and dinner last year. Forgoing the plan and paying at the door of the dining hall is a cheaper option. The Any 15 Meals plans are overpriced by a little less than $400, and the Any 10 Meals Plus plan costs an astonishing $709 more than the value it offers.

To calculate the value of each plan, the GUM multiplied the number of meals by the amount charged to diners who lack a plan or a guest pass. Last year at the door, breakfast cost $6.50, lunch cost $8.50, and dinner cost $11.50. This total was added to the dining dollars and number of guest passes in the plan. (The data table can be found here.)

For example, the 80 Meals Plus plan offers $130 in dining cash and $920 in dinners for a total value of $1,050. However, because 80 Meals Plus costs $1,120, students lose $70 when they enroll in the plan. Students would be better off paying at the door and using cash or credit at the Grill.

If you are a student living off-campus, your best bet is the Lunch Bunch plan, which only loses $30 over the course of the semester. The other low-end options are cheap but still overpriced.

The economics of the dining hall can be complicated. In its article about the new hours, the S&B noted that Dining Services will be tracking peak traffic to decide how much food it should produce. But overall, the Fall 2014 changes are “more cost-effective.”

Dining Services told the GUM on May 29 that meal prices at the door will be rising next semester, but full details are not available. A $1 rise in prices would make some of the plans cost-effective for students, but the Any 15 Meals and Any 10 Meals Plus plans would still be very overpriced. With or without a price change, it’s difficult for students to pick the best meal plan option without full cost information from Grinnell.

Please comment below to discuss the GUM‘s analysis. Hopefully, the $709 overcharge on Any 10 Meals Plus is due to a mistake, because that profit is far too high for a non-profit college.

Update | May 29, 11:56AM CST: The graph and article were updated to reflect the true value of the Any 15 Meals plan, which is less than this article originally stated. Thanks to Peter Bautz ’15 for catching the error.


  1. Madeline Warnick

    May 30, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    Dining told me that the cost per meal for the new system is as follows:

    Hot breakfast 8.00
    Continental breakfast 6.00
    Lunch or Brunch 10.00
    Light Lunch (1:30-5, M-F) 9.00
    Dinner 13.00

    I don’t use meal plans because for the 65 or 80 meals per semester, you’re saving something like $0.30 per meal if you eat only dinners there. So if you eat any other meal, at all, you lose money on those plans. The old system was the same way- this is not new!

  2. I agree that the discrepancy between the price of meals on their own and the price of the meal plans is ridiculous, but I take issue with the last sentence. Being a non-profit doesn’t mean an organization can’t have excess revenue; it just means that the revenue will remain within the organization rather than leave the organization. There are plenty of wealthy non-profits. While some of these wealthier non-profits (eg ACT) are truly greedy and manipulate the system in their favor, I like to think that description doesn’t fit Grinnell. Just because an organization is a non-profit doesn’t mean it’s not important to have excess revenue in order to improve services and ensure its preservation over the long term. If Grinnell had higher alumni giving (just an example) and thus higher revenue, it would be able to provide more for students and I’m sure we’d see the benefits. Maybe if the Dining Hall specifically had more money in revenue, they’d be able to purchase higher quality, organic meat and other products like students have been pushing for. Anyway, I’m digressing. I think this article is important but i just wanted to point that out. We often talk about how it’s a bad thing that the college wants to increase revenue and that certain administrators want to “run Grinnell like a business” when in reality higher revenue streams could actually benefit everyone as long as it’s done responsibly and in a way that adheres to the social justice mission.

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