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Column: UNC has a PLUS Swipe problem

Lenoir Dining Hall
Lenoir Dining Hall is one of 14 buildings across campus in which students are able to use Meal Swipes, PLUS Swipes, or Dining Flex. Photo taken on April 22, 2019.

Were you planning on using a PLUS Swipe for dinner? I hope you’re okay with fried chicken.

All meal plans offered by Carolina Dining Services at UNC include PLUS Swipes alongside traditional swipes. Depending on the meal plan, students receive either 25 or 35 of these swipes. Rather than going to the dining halls, a PLUS Swipe allows students to get a special food combo from some restaurants on campus. Several locations accept these PLUS Swipes, including popular national chains such as Chick-fil-A and local favorites like Mediterranean Deli.

While this current system seems like a great way to vary your meals from typical dining hall food, it has a glaring issue: the lack of PLUS Swipe variety later in the day.

CholaNad, Med Deli, Alpaca Peruvian Chicken, Bandido’s and Bento Sushi all close at 3 p.m. These five restaurants also happen to have the most variety in their food offerings, making them ideal choices for patrons with dietary restrictions. These locations all have at least one vegan combo option, with Alpaca, CholaNad and Med Deli having combos that are both vegan and gluten free.

After 3 p.m., the only places where students can use a PLUS Swipe for dinner are Chick-fil-A, Bojangles, Alpine Bagel and Subway. The Scoop stays open until 5 p.m., but only serves ice cream and sorbet. Not only are these options much more limited in menu, with fried chicken, bagels and sandwiches serving as the only entree options, but they also cater much less to patrons with dietary restrictions. None of these establishments offer a vegan or gluten-free PLUS Swipe combo option. Subway, Alpine Bagel and Bojangles have meager vegetarian choices.

Meal plan holders with dietary restrictions are practically forced to use their PLUS Swipes early in the day. This time period may not work for everyone. When purchasing a meal plan, the allotted 25 to 35 PLUS Swipes are factored into the pricing, making not using them equivalent to burning money.

While UNC’s PLUS Swipe system is flawed, other universities have more effective systems. Northeastern University has a Meal Exchange system, through which students can convert one of their typical meal swipes into one that can be used at other dining locations across campus. These exchanged meal swipes essentially function the same as a PLUS Swipe.

This exchange process can be done two or three times per week, depending on the meal plan a student holds. This frequency allows for students to use between 30 and 45 alternative meal swipes each semester, significantly more than UNC grants students.

Not only does this system grant students more Meal Exchanges than UNC offers PLUS Swipes, but the hours of the retail locations that accept these Meal Exchanges are much better. Northeastern University has eight on-campus locations in which Meal Exchanges can be used, with six of these establishments being open until at least 7 p.m. the majority of the week.

Furthermore, most of these locations offer Meal Exchange combos keeping patrons with food restrictions in mind. Seven of the eight Meal Exchange-eligible restaurants offer vegetarian options, and four of them include vegan options. The large presence of establishments offering vegan and vegetarian options signals to students that their dietary needs are a priority of Northeastern — needs that seem to be placed on the back burner by UNC.

UNC’s PLUS swipe system is flawed. The main way the system could be improved would be by urging locations like CholaNad and Alpaca to increase their hours. This would help bolster the PLUS Swipe options available to students in the late afternoon and evening. Doing so would increase the variety of food for all students and let students with dietary restrictions know they are valued by CDS and UNC at large.

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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