Described as a “Collegetown alternative to Big Red Bucks,” Elevate is the newest meal plan package available to Cornell students. Elevate was founded by two University of Virginia alumni to provide students with more convenient dining options. This program has expanded to schools across the country and, most recently, to Cornell. Currently there are seven restaurants included in this meal plan at Cornell: Cafe Pacific, Manndible Café, Oishii Bowl, Apollo Chinese Restaurant, Collegetown Pizza, Hai Hong Restaurant and Calios.
How it works:
First, you purchase a set of meal plans (refundable with a 100 percent satisfaction or your money back for any unused meals guarantee) in either a set of three, 45, 75 or 105 meals. The price per meal ranges from $9.34 to $9.76 per meal, not including tax, with prices per meal typically decreasing when purchasing a larger package. Once you purchase a meal plan, you will receive access to their ordering site where you can pre-order meals. The site is organized by restaurant with several offerings per restaurant. These offerings typically include a small side dish or drink with your choice of entree. You can pick your entree from a limited list of meal options from the restaurant’s full menu. When your food is ready, typically 15 to 20 minutes later, you can pick up your meal from the restaurant.
This is the first year I’ve lived off campus and have been off a Cornell dining plan. Like most Cornell students, I don’t always have time to make or be home for dinner/lunch. Elevate seemed like the perfect option for me: It provided a flexible alternative to a dining hall and served as a convenient backup plan for when I couldn’t or didn’t want to cook. At first, I loved the service: The site was easy to use, the restaurants were close by and it saved me time and money. However, after a few weeks of using the service, I found myself unsatisfied with the restaurant and food options.
The food, which I thought to be subpar, became repetitive. Of the seven restaurants partnering with Elevate, six are located in Collegetown (all but Manndible Cafe). These six restaurants fall into three categories: Japanese, Chinese, and Pizza. I found that meals from the first two cuisines, Japanese and Chinese, often didn’t taste fresh. The dishes seemed pre-prepared and were often underseasoned and featured rubbery meat.
Unlike these restaurants, the pizza restaurants, CTP and Calios, seemed to fulfill their orders as they were placed. However, both of these restaurants typically feature high-calorie, carb-heavy, foods that left me craving a healthier alternative.
- Cheaper than dining halls: Cornell is ranked #3 in the country, a fact that is represented in the cost of the dining plans. Elevate is considerably cheaper than the Cornell Dining Plans, where the cheapest traditional dining plan is $2,316. If you’re not satisfied with the plan, you can also request a refund for any unused meals!
- Meals don’t expire: Unlike a traditional meal plan, Elevate meals do not expire by week or by semester. You have the choice to use your meals at your discretion and are not as obligated to use your meals on a weekly basis.
- Saves time: For many of us, college is the first time we are responsible for all aspects of our meals: budgeting, planning, shopping, cooking. For the busy student or the inexperienced chef, Elevate is the perfect crutch when learning how to balance all of these things into our busy schedules.
- Easy to use: The Elevate website is easy to use and understand. The site is organized by restaurant, then entree and then side dishes. This setup allows users to easily navigate and order from the site in seconds.
- Lots of options: Since you have the flexibility to choose your own entree and side dish, there are hundreds of meal pairing options on the website.
- 529 plan eligible: If you already have a 529 State/School College Savings Plan, you can request a receipt for reimbursement from Elevate through your college spending account.
- Convenience: Like many students, I don’t always carry a credit/debit card or cash with me. Luckily, picking up your order doesn’t require either. Since the meals are prepaid for, you don’t have to worry about needing anything to pick up your food.
- Large portions: Between the entree and side dish, you typically have enough food to last you for two meals. This just adds another layer of convenience as you then don’t have to reorder or cook for another meal.
- Few and limited types of restaurants: Right now, there are only seven restaurants partnering with Elevate, six of which are in Collegetown. Only varying in three types of cuisines, these restaurants start to feel underwhelming after a few orders. There are a lot of similarities in the types of food offered, so even though there are technically a lot of meal options, they still feel limiting because of the lack of diversity.
- Carb-Heavy: Most of the meal pairings feature one of three things: Noodles, bread or rice. The dishes often lack balance and leave you feeling too full and craving healthier, more balanced alternatives. Overall, the range of healthy options pales in comparison to the range and number of unhealthy ones.
- Lack of description: Calios is the only restaurant on Elevate that has dish descriptions. For many of the others, you would not know what the dish was without having eaten it before or having to google what it is.
There seem to be more pros than cons, but the cons outweigh the pros. Unfortunately, since Elevate is a relatively new meal plan offering, it subsequently has not partnered with nearly as many restaurants as it has on other campuses. As a result, the few restaurant offerings start to feel redundant. Elevate offers little variety in types of cuisine and, even though there a lot of meal options, they are mostly just slight variations of a few types of meals. The meals themselves are typically carb-heavy and/or unhealthy, with few options breaking this norm. The meal plan is cheaper than dining halls, but students could easily save more money by cooking for themselves or ordering from different restaurants around Collegetown.
The final verdict? Not worth the money. Until Elevate can diversify and increase its partner restaurants and offer healthier options, you’re better off finding your meals elsewhere.