Preferred Dining Program Is Loss For Baker Students, Report Says

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Baker House residents vote on the Preferred Dining membership at last night's house meeting.
Kristina M. Holton—The Tech

A majority of Baker House residents are satisfied with the quality of Baker Dining but do not consider the Preferred Dining membership program to be a value to them, according to a report released last week by the Baker House Dining Committee. The committee found that the average Baker resident loses $125 per term through Preferred Dining, a mandatory program for most residents of dormitories with dining halls that gives students a 50 percent discount on dining hall food after paying for membership.

According to the committee's presentation to Campus Dining, Baker Dining loses $100,000 per term to operate, an amount that is almost covered by the money students lose from participation in Preferred Dining.

The report also analyzed a proposed 75 Meal Plan Program and made recommendations for changes to the dining system to improve efficiency, including increasing transparency and student input and lightening Dining's financial hardships. The report gives the results of a dormitory-wide dining survey conducted by the committee, in which approximately half the residents of Baker were surveyed.

See the full report at report.pdf and The presentation is available at presentation.pdf.

"We hope that MIT acknowledges that there are serious problems with the current [dining] system," David Dryjanski '07, a member of the Baker House Dining committee, said in an e-mail yesterday. "We understand that drastic changes cannot be made overnight, but would like to see [the Office of Campus Dining] increase transparency, engage the [Undergraduate Association] Dining Committee in its changes, and present a timeline for system-wide changes."

Dining is not ready to give an official response, Richard D. Berlin III, director of Campus Dining, said in an interview yesterday. Berlin said that he met with the authors of the report on Friday. He added that there would be a response to the Baker House Dining Committee in the future. No decisions have been made on whether Dining will move forward with the report's recommendations, Dryjanski said.

"While the administration values [Preferred Dining] as a community building mechanism, it is important to note that the Baker Dining Committee focused solely on [Preferred Dining] as an imposition of cost," the UA Dining Committee stated in its response to the Baker Dining Report. "Also, the report's tone toward the Office of Campus Dining and its employees speaks of the feelings of deep frustration and lack of value upon their input that many students feel."

Students should not feel restricted to living in certain dormitories because of the potential financial costs of Preferred Dining, the UA response continued. In the UA Dining Committee's April 2007 survey, the committee determined that a 10 percent increase in the price of Preferred Dining would potentially cause 3 percent of students to switch dormitories.

The UA response also added that there was significant variation across different dormitories with dining halls. Simmons benefitted the least from Preferred Dining and the community building that Dining hopes will results from the program. "Through a series of surveys and solicitation of feedback, the Dining Committee observes that in an environment such as MIT, mandating students to eat is [sic] dining halls is not the most effective method of building community," the UA report states.

"We hope other dorms see our findings and consider evaluating the system for their own residents as well," Dryjanski said in an e-mail. "Every dorm has a different view of dining, and only together can we make the system better as a whole for everyone."

The UA reported that students are worried about the construction of a dining hall in MacGregor, as the concerns with preferred dining have not yet been resolved. "Until these problems are fixed, new dining halls should not be considered at other locations," the UA Dining Committee stated in its report.

According to the presentation of the Baker House report given to Campus Dining, the average Baker resident eats approximately 42 meals out of the 74 required to break even with preferred dining. Only 13.3 percent of residents break even, the presentation states. While the majority of the surveyed Baker residents are satisfied with the quality of service of Baker Dining, 75 percent of those surveyed do not consider the preferred dining program to be a value. Additionally, 92 percent support an extension of Preferred Dining to on-campus dining facilities other than dining halls, such as the food vendors in the Student Center.

See above for a table of Baker Dining survey results.

The committee determined that the fair price to charge Baker residents for Preferred Dining would be $175, a number that will allow the majority of Baker residents to break even. According to the Baker House Dining Committee, the rate at which the Preferred Dining price has increased outpaces the inflation rate. Using historic inflation data, the committee estimates that the cost of preferred should be around $225 currently. Preferred Dining membership cost $300 this term and will rise to $325 in the fall.

The report analyzed other proposed meal programs, including the 75 Meal Plan Program, in which students in residences with dining halls must purchase 75 buffet-style meals at the start of the term for $650. The committee determined that the 75 Meal Plan Program would not be valuable for Baker students, because the average Baker resident consumes only 42 meals per semester.

Suggestions for decreasing the costs of dining on campus included finding a vendor that currently has a strong delivery presence at MIT for Pritchett Dining, closing McCormick Dining by having food prepared at Baker and shipped to McCormick Hall, and changing vendors if profitability cannot be achieved.

The report also touched on positive trends in Campus Dining, including the successful introduction of multiple vendors and competition, as well as the choice of vendors, specifically Anna's Taqueria, Dunkin' Donuts, and Subway.

The report was presented to Baker House residents during last night's House Meeting.