Varied options exist for hungry Gamecocks
USC dining officials are introducing a new meal plan option this fall — dubbed the “Flex” and targeted at only upperclassmen. Students who purchase one of the three Flex meal plans pay around the same amount as those who buy a traditional meal plan at the beginning of the semester. However, instead of buying preconfigured meal swipes, they are given an account of $230, $400 or $470 Flex dollars, which have twice the spending power of traditional retail, to use at any on-campus dining facility at any time. The plan does not limit the amount that can be spent at one time, and students will be able to use any leftover account money to purchase bulk items from Carolina Dining during a “Flex burn” at the end of the semester. Students can add Flex dollars to their Carolina Cards when their meals run out, meaning that they’ll get double in retail value whatever they put in.
The initial investment is less of a deal, though. The smallest Flex plan costs $700 for $230 Flex dollars, worth a retail value of $460. Cynthia Steele, marketing manager for Dining, said the cost of meal plans above the retail value goes to supporting the 25 dining option across campus, many of which the university wouldn’t be able to support otherwise.
Student Body President Joe Wright, a fourth-year finance student, advocated more flexible meal plans throughout his run for office last semester. While he still promotes traditional meal plans to new students who aren’t used to having to budget their meals, Wright hopes that more upperclassmen will find the new, more liberal plans more efficient.
“[The traditional plan] carries you through your first semester without having to manage all your dining options,” Wright said. “Still, you’re not getting the best value for your dollar. Whenever you miss a meal, it’s gone, and the money you lose adds up over time. Students told us they wanted more flexibility, so this is the solution we rolled out with.”
Despite the new flexible option, second-year biology student Michael Miles still prefers the regulatory security of the traditional block plan. As a freshman, Miles lived off the 16-plus plan. This year, as a resident mentor at the Roost with a 50-percent meal plan discount, Miles has plenty of incentive to stick with a basic 14-swipe plan.
“With the Flex, you could blow through your meals and then end up spending even more on food,” Miles said. “I think it’s best to stick with the traditional meal plan. It’s just very convenient. Coming out of class you can easily dip inside any place on campus, and your food is essentially already paid for.”
If you want to keep it simple, the traditional meal plans are still available.
They sell from $1,175 to $1,398 for 10 to 21 meals per week, with 10 being the minimum purchase requirement for on-campus freshmen. One catch is that each of those meals must be purchased during separate dining hour blocks: 3 to 10:59 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m. to 3:59 p.m. for lunch and 4 p.m. to 2:59 a.m. for dinner. Each block, respectively, allows $4.69, $5.89 and $6.29 per swipe in retail value.
“We always get a lot of questions about it from new students and parents,” said Cynthia Steele, Carolina Dining’s marketing coordinator.
Steele and other dining representatives will be available at a table in Russell House during move-in weekend to explain to newcomers how to use the plan.