UBC first year residence dining rooms transition to all-access dining plan

A new all-access dining plan will take effect in all first-year residences at UBC starting September 2022.

The current dining plan is a declining debit system, where students pay a fixed value for their meal plan at the beginning of the year. They can then purchase food at residence dining rooms and other on-campus locations on an item-by-item basis. 

In contrast, the new dining plan will be all access, meaning that instead of paying item-by-item, students living in first-year residence will have unlimited access to food at any residence dining room. 

The dining plan costs $6497.94 in total, including a $5998.44 fee for all-access in-residence dining, and $499.50 in Flex Dollars, which can be used at certain on-and off-campus locations. The 2021/22 Residence Meal Plan plan cost $5,579.72.

Visitors that are not part of the dining plan can also pay a door rate to access the all-you-can-eat options at any first-year residence dining room. The door rate varies by the time of the day: $12 for breakfast, $15 for lunch, and $19 for dinner.

Colin Moore, director of UBC Food Services, said that the change came primarily in response to feedback from first-year students. This included many years of annual benchmarking surveys, as well as direct consultation with student focus groups over the past few months.

One concern highlighted by students was the high price of food in first-year dining rooms. 

“They would tell us that they're making choices based on price as opposed to nutrition,” Moore said, “They don’t believe they were getting great value out of the meal plan.”

Other concerns included limited variety and small portion sizes

The all-access dining plan aims to remove these factors and improve first-year students’ relationship with food.

“You come into the dining room and you don’t see prices. You never have to think about price. It significantly improves food equity … and [student] well-being. There’s tremendous social, environmental, and sustainability improvements,” he said. 

He also noted that UBC Okanagan implemented an all-access dining plan for students in residence last year with positive results.

Dana Turdy, AMS vice-president academic and university affairs, said that the change was needed for students, emphasizing the need for increased food security measures on campus.

She also noted that the higher upfront cost of the new meal plan was a concern.

“We highlighted to UBC Housing and Food Services that there should be more subsidies and bursaries … to help subsidize those extra costs,” she said.

Aside from the change in payment systems, there are some other changes that come alongside the new dining plan. For example, students will no longer be able to take their meals to-go. 

Meghan Cooke, fifth-year applied sciences student and senior residence advisor (RA), said that while she is open to the change, she believes the lack of takeout options will be difficult for RAs.

“My biggest concern is no takeout. I'm always interacting with residents, which I absolutely love … But [as an RA] it's hard to have that downtime or personal space if you have to eat in the dining room, every single meal, every single day,” Cooke said.

Turdy said that the AMS was also concerned about the lack of "extra flexibility" takeout options provide students.

Moore clarified there will be some take-out options available, such as fruit, coffee and baked goods at breakfast, as well as pre-ordered take-out lunches. 

Dining room menus will be posted on a digital dining platform called Nutrislice, where students can view food options with ingredients and allergens listed and order take-out lunches.

Cooke also expressed concern that there were limited opportunities for RAs to express their feedback and concerns about the new meal plan.

“For such a big change, it feels like there should have been more communication or more opportunities for RAS to voice what we thought on all of this,” she said. 

Moore wrote in an email correspondence that input was taken from RAs in a consultation session with three to four representative RAs, as well as the residence council Food Advisory Committee.

Moore emphasized the importance of a community dining room experience to social engagement and student-well being. 

“We believe that [the dining room] is the right place for students to eat … where they can get support, have connections with others, [and] have the best possible first year experience.”