College shifts meal plan options, curtails Board Buck usage

The+Dining+Center+with+no+indoor+seating.

Photo: Bailey Allen

The Dining Center with no indoor seating.

By Frankie Rowley and Camilo Fonseca

Emerson students will have different meal plans to choose from for the fall semester, as the college rolls back changes it says were brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic—including the use of Board Bucks at off-campus dining locations.

The revised meal plans largely reflect a shift to on-campus dining services, and away from off-campus partner businesses. The default residential plan, which formerly consisted of twelve meal swipes per week and $800 in Board Bucks per semester, now provides 23 meal swipes per week but $150 in Board Bucks per semester. Students may switch to Plan C—five weekly meal swipes and $800 in Board Bucks—for no additional cost. 

Plan B provides 101 meals and $650 Board Bucks per semester, while Plan D includes 10 meals a week and $800 Board Bucks—the same as last semester’s default “Mane Plan.” However, these plans will cost students an extra $100 and $125 in billing per semester, respectively.

Off-campus students will also have expanded meal plan options. The college created three additional meal plans for off-campus students this year—the Charles (300 meals and no Board Bucks for $380), 120 (no meals and 120 Board Bucks for $120), and Boylston Plans (85 meals and 150 Board bucks for $703). 

However, the most significant change is the elimination of campus-adjacent Board Bucks locations. 

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Throughout the 2020-21 academic year, students frequented various off-campus partner establishments—among others: El Jefe’s Taqueria, Tatte Bakery and Cafe, and Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill—that partnered with the college to accept Board Bucks. This shift, first implemented in fall 2020, was an effort to de-densify the traffic flowing in and out of the dining center, according to Customer Experience Coordinator for Campus Services Jordan Mackenzie.

“Last year, many adjustments were made to address the need for de-densifying campus dining locations, and with extreme circumstances, we had to make changes to campus operations as well as policies and procedures,” Mackenzie wrote in an email to The Beacon. “Dining Alliance partnerships were formed in an effort to not only expand dining locations and student resources, but support our neighborhood businesses during the emergency.”

With the college lifting most of its COVID-19 restrictions and anticipating a “full capacity” dining center in the fall, Emerson will eliminate its Board Bucks partnerships with off-campus vendors. As a result, the currency will only be accepted at on-campus dining locations, such as the Lions Den, the Paramount Cafe, and the Max Grill.

“The Dining Alliance partners in our campus neighborhood will continue to accept EC Cash,” Mackenzie added. “We are working to confirm the ‘meal deals’ being offered from those participating restaurants, and that information will be shared out as students arrive back on campus.”

Mackenzie noted that the college was considering a “hybrid-style” meal plan that would allow students to spend off-campus Board Bucks “in the future.”

With the increased emphasis on on-campus dining facilities, Dining Center operations will return to a pre-pandemic normal—including indoor seating and limited self-service food stations.

“[Students] can expect a refreshed approach to ‘bar’ style food, featuring stations that offer menus built to [their] liking,” wrote Mackenzie. “Additionally, we will have a served gelato station in the Dining Center.”

The decision to eliminate the use of Board Bucks at off-campus locations has drawn widespread backlash from students and parents. 

“El Jefe’s, Tatte, and Garbanzo were all very popular options with the students,” wrote one Emerson parent in a family Facebook group, raising a question over the change in Board Buck use.

“My son didn’t like the dining hall options much and used his board bucks at El Jeffes [sic] mostly,” wrote another parent. “This will not be a welcome change for him. Wish I knew this before picking his meal plan for the year!”

A student-created petition circulating on social media specifically cites the changes in Board Bucks as an impetus for the college’s financial reform. As of Friday, the petition has garnered nearly 1,200 signatures.

Mackenzie noted that the Emerson dining experience will be changing over the next year as the college plans to reintroduce full capacity dining and in-person student engagement, allowing for more food pop-ups, in-person campus events, and other changes that are still in the works. 

The college has yet to make an official announcement regarding the meal plan revisions.