As we approach the end of October, many students are also approaching the end of their dining plan balances. Though this may have a lot to do with insatiable appetites and DX, the campus Flex Plan system is a major culprit.
Specifically, the way dining services calculates the balances and advertises prices is very deceptive. Rather than consider the whole dining fee as the available balance and simply charge the regular prices on food, Virginia Tech has devised a clever system of dividing the Flex Plan cost.
According to the Dining Services website, “All Flex Plans have a base cost of $894 and a balance of Flex Dollars.” However, the balance for any of the Flex Plans is at least $180 less than the base cost (the Premium Plan offers a balance of $714).
This means even the 50 percent discount on food at the a la carte facilities does not fully compensate for our Flex Plan costs. In other words, the discount is just a gimmick; we are not getting real savings.
Every time students buy food anywhere other than D2 — where you receive at least a 67 percent discount on food — we lose money we thought we were saving.
One famous example is the lobster at West End. When students see the listed price as $30 they shirk away. But occasionally there will be a sign touting the discounted price of $15, giving the impression of real savings.
Unfortunately, students paying with their Flex Dollars in effect pay more than $30, since the 50 percent discount does not compensate for the difference between the base cost of the Flex Plan and our balance.
But the problem is more insidious than simply paying more for food we thought was actually discounted. It’s a matter of false advertising, which has psychological effects on students’ eating habits on campus.
When students want to a buy a cheeseburger and fries, a steal at around $3.50 after the discount, they are more likely to buy this combination of food. They eat unhealthy snack foods despite high prices.
I can personally attest to the psychological effects of the 50 percent discount lies. Since freshman year, the deceptively low discounted prices of food at DX gave me an excuse to go there about every other day. The draw of DX prices is still too much to bear.
So what can be changed to solve the problem?
First of all, dining services should drop this ridiculous concept of a “base cost.” When a normal restaurant charges a certain price for food, it does not differentiate between a base cost to cover “utilities, maintenance, repairs, mortgage payments, and the labor…” (the words used by dining services' website). Guests pay one price covering every cost to the restaurant and that may lead to some profit.
Second, the guise of a 50 percent discount should be dropped. It is deceptive. It gives the false impression that food is actually cheap on campus. Most importantly, it would be unnecessary if the balance on Flex Plans could simply be made equal to the total cost of the plan.
Until changes are made to the Flex Plan system, students will continue to eat unholy amounts of food on campus. But Tech’s Dining Services will have a stain on its conscience.