Thoughts on MIT Dining April 2010


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Here are some thoughts (mostly questions) I had on dining at MIT which I submitted to the MIT Idea Bank on Dining. Comments on flaws in my analysis are welcome. -ThePlaz 01:16, 15 April 2010 (EDT)


Where does the $600,000 come from?

Has anyone ever thought where the $600,000 comes from and whose paying for it? I suppose it falls into a few categories -student life fee (either paid by everyone's parents or fin aid) -endowment return -alumni donations Now imagine that this deficit is closed. The institute now has the equivalent of $600,000 lying around. Even if they use it to close their budget gap from lower endowment distributions, they are still not cutting $600,000 elsewhere. So this basically means they have extra money in any case. Although there is one exception, if the money was from alumni donations and restricted as to only be used on dining and the alumni would not make other contributions. (This is rumored to be the case in McCormick) Any redistributive use would presumably go towards something which benefits all students, not just those who use house dining regularly. Student life fees could be reduced, putting money back into the pockets of all students [and charging those who live in house dining halls more, but that's a separate post] or they could be used for some additional programs. So right now, the rest of MIT is subsidizing the 4 dorms with dining. This means that cuts to house dining and/or increased revenues would actually benefit the protesters. [Campaign for Students is ~96% students who do not live in dining halls] Granted CFS has achieved its objective of getting changes for dorms without dining halls off the table, but their involvement against moves that would benefit them is laudable

Where will the extra money come from? Families or other departments unless costs are addressed

So where will all of this magical extra money come from to close the holes in the system, if costs are not cut? The students!

If the costs were still the same, but instead higher prices were charged to students, the money could come from one of two places. Either parents/students of those who eat in dining halls, or the financial aid programs. If the students on financial aid individually move from buying food that costs less to prepare to that which costs more, it will be worse for these students. There may not be any direct cost to the financial aid program because the financial aid program vastly overestimates spending on food. Students use this surplus money for either spending or reducing their or their families' contributions. Both represents a real increase in the cost of college to families both on financial aid and not, even if it does not on paper. On a percentage basis, this burden is worse on lower income families. Any additional dollar out of pocket cost is a dollar out of the pockets for individual students. Granted this is due to a current loop hole in the financial aid system, but it could represent several hundred to a thousand dollars of additional cost to students. [Note cost estimate is rough, but would be dollar for dollar more money spent]

If a different level of financial aid is implemented as discussed, than the extra cost of these programs would be borne by the financial aid program. I am not sure how the program is funded - if every dollar of aid comes from some source earmarked for aid - such as alumni donations; or if the Institute mealy provides a discount and decreases tuition revenue accordingly. This seems to be merely shifting costs from one department to another. In essence the Institute is paying extra for the more expensive program someway or other. Unless something is done on the cost side of the equation, moving who pays means either MIT shifts the cost from department to department or more money is ultimately paid by families.

Students who were happy preparing food for themselves (no labor cost), would now have to pay labor costs for preparing their food. Now one could argue that most of the labor cost is fixed, and not marginal per meal, but it still represents new labor cost where one did not exist before. Presumably the students would have more time for work - if they were not waiting for their food.

A mandatory program will move more meals from other locations on campus and in the community. It is safe to assume that students will consume the same or similar amount of food after changes are made - the demand for food is inelastic. What will change is where students purchase food from. Locations in the Student Center and take out programs may no longer be self-sustaining at lower volumes. Is MIT prepared that a natural reduction in choice will happen?

So who benefits? The students who are out of the program and cook for themselves after the changes. Who loses? The families whose students live in dorms with dining halls, especially for those where the extra cost would be a hardship. The Institute? It either shifts costs from department to department or to families. This will be true of any reforms which do not address cost.


Deutsche Bahn is the national railway of Germany (think Amtrak). They have a flexible discount card system which is somewhat similar to the current House Dining Membership. The price for the 50 card lines up almost exactly to HDM (currently 314 USD) About it: [in German]

The BanhCard 25: 25% off 2nd class tickets for a year 58 euros The BahnCard 50: 50% off 2nd class tickets for a year 230 euros The BahnCard 100: unlimited travel for the year 3,800 euros And or course you can pay full price without a card

Deutsche Bahn runs these long distance lines at a profit; they compete against the bus and driving. This is similar to how house dining competes against other locations on campus and cooking for yourself. Deutsche Bahn has obviously thought this loyalty program through and found that it increases profits. MIT should take advantage of the work.

A similar choice of cards/plans should be provided to students, if not those who live in dorms with dining halls, than all students and members of the community. Now, some things may need to be changed, for example, to prevent one person from feeding his entire suite, but the array of choices along with the prices levels should be adopted.

Open to the Public

The house dining halls should be advertised as open to members of the public. What better way to increase use, than to draw on more customers.

If needed, the facility changes to create a separate entrance to the street shall be accelerated.

Take out and AYCE

One thing which must be addressed is take out. As a Baker resident it appear to me that between 70-90% of meals from Baker are eaten as take-out. This is far higher than other schools. MIT students need to grab dinner and then head off to whatever activity they are going to. MIT students simply do not have time time to eat in the dining hall every night.

If AYCE is implemented, this plan must support take out some how. The system can not allow one to simply take out as much food as one wishes or one could feed their entire suite on one meal swipe.

But then, how can AYCE and take-out work together? What do other schools do?

Before students choose AYCE this must be addressed.

Dining at MIT

Various things I have said about dining at MIT, in various contexts: