January 31, 2001

Rival Meal Plan Gains Popularity

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Although the University-sponsored meal plan dominates the dining scene on the Cornell campus, a growing number of students are turning to University Meal Deal, an independent organization offering discount dining through area restaurants.

University Meal Deal, a company based in Sharon, Mass., calls itself “the ideal meal plan solution.” The organization works in conjunction with Ithaca restaurants to provide a debit-based meal plan similar to the University’s, according to Larry Rubin, director of marketing for University Meal Deal.

Unlike the Cornell meal plan, students can choose between eateries such as Little Joe’s Restaurant, Smoothie Hut, Subway and a host of others.

“Convenience is one of the main benefits of our program,” Rubin said. “You don’t have to keep going to the ATM to get money. You just swipe your card and the money is debited. You can use your card for take out, eat in or delivery. Also, every week there is a featured restaurant. If you use your card there, you get a 10 percent discount.”

University Meal Deal offers six different plans, ranging from $282 per semester for three meals a week to $1,626 for 19. A comparable Cornell plan, consisting of 20 meals a week, costs $1,665 per semester.

The University is not affiliated with the program and does not think it will affect the meal plans at Cornell, according to Peggy Beach, director of marketing for campus life.

In its second year of operation, University Meal Deal serves six schools in Boston, Maryland and Ithaca, including Cornell and Ithaca College. The organization planted roots in Ithaca last summer and spent the past semester expanding its local client base. According to Rubin, 17 area restaurants participate in University Meal Deal, and approximately 100 students subscribe to the service.

Dino’s Restaurant is among five Collegetown eateries participating in University Meal Deal.

“It’s a nice alternative to Cornell’s meal plan,” said Dave Pendleton, Dino’s Restaurant and Bar manager. “The costs are low for businesses, and the potential to give students flexibility on what they eat was enticing.”

Students also found advantages to the program.

“I really like the idea of eating in Collegetown without having to worry about carrying cash around,” Carolyn Wong ’03 said. “It seems like a pretty simple alternative to hiking up to campus for food.”

Other students were skeptical, however, about the program’s merits.

“I fully support Cornell dining,” said Student Assembly president Uzo Asonye ’02 . “I am not really in support of the University Meal Deal program because I know Cornell dining is pursuing a long-range plan of having off-campus partners.”

“The idea behind the Meal Deal program has potential,” Stephanie Potisek ’03 said. “Right now, with only a few restaurants participating, I feel like it limits where I can eat. They need to increase the number of restaurants you can choose from.”

According to Rubin, this is one of the primary goals of University Meal Deal.

“Students e-mail us with the names of restaurants they would like to see in our program,” Rubin said. “Then we approach these restaurants and ask them to participate. We are always looking to add new restaurants to our program.”

As the program expands, Rubin hopes students will reap the benefits of an alternative dining program.

“We are not trying to compete with the dining halls,” Rubin said. “We just know that students spend money off campus. The overall winner is the students. They are getting a valuable service.”

Archived article by Abigail Conover