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University dining centers bursting at the seams


BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 19, 2008 – When was the last time that you heard of a "lottery system" being considered to determine who gets to buy a meal plan? Probably never.

However, Virginia Tech Dining Services, a department within the Division of Student Affairs, is considering plans on how to accommodate the growing number of board plans, until a new dining center is completed in 2012.

Virginia Tech sold an unprecedented 9,400 off-campus meal plans this fall, bringing its total meal plan number to 18,500, one of the largest number of meal plans sold on a college campus in the United States.

When Rick Johnson, director of housing and dining services, was asked how dining was going to accommodate this large and growing number of students that want to dine on campus, he said, “We may have to start a lottery system to buy a meal plan. In the old days, students moved off-campus to avoid meal plans. Now we are seeing 9,400 off-campus students voluntarily buying meal plans—it’s unheard of.”

Virginia Tech has developed a reputation for high quality dining service and is considered an innovator within the hospitality business. Virginia Tech was ranked No. 1 in the nation for student dining satisfaction on a national benchmarking survey in the summer of 2008.

Virginia Tech has a longstanding reputation for quality dining service. In the past five years, the self-operated dining program has received 17 Loyal E. Horton Awards from the National Association of College and University Food Services, in addition to awards from other organizations for sales, programming, restaurant design, and products.

The Virginia Tech dining program uses Flex Plans, a declining balance system that works just like a debit account, instead of the traditional meals-per-week plans. Students pay a flat rate at the beginning of each semester and use their money in the 11 à la carte and all-you-care-to-eat restaurants on campus.

When Johnson was asked what he was really going to do about 18,500 board plan members, he said, “We have a great staff that is working very hard everyday to serve our student customers. We have requested permission to open more dining venues on weekends. At lunch time all facilities are open and maxed out, however we are still working to ensure each guest has a quality experience.”