Students get more options

By Laura Graesser

Sometimes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or Ramen noodles don’t cut it.

The Off-Campus Dining Network (OCDN) is quickly becoming an alternative meal plan for students who have grown tired of eating dining hall food or cooking meals in their apartments.

“Cafeteria meal plans often lack value and variety,” said Cade Lemcke, vice president of marketing for OCDN. “With our off-campus plan, no matter what a student is craving or what time they want to eat, they have options.”

OCDN began during the summer of 2002 and was used at 10 East Coast universities. The Network is now available at 33 universities around the country.

The plan works by storing a monetary amount on a Network card. Students can then swipe the cards at participating restaurants and the bill is deducted from the balance. Students can continuously add credits to the cards throughout the year.

“The plan is very convenient and easy to use,” Lemcke said.

A summer 2004 merger between the Network and Off-Campus Access, another alternative meal plan company, replaced last year’s Green Street Meal Plan.

“We joined forces to cater to more students,” Lemcke said.

In the off-campus plan, every dollar placed on the card is spent in a restaurant, and at the end of a semester, the balance rolls over to the next semester.

“The plan is dollar for dollar so there’s no money lost,” Lemcke said.

In this way, a student gets more for their money, he said. Lemcke also said an average residence hall cafeteria meal plan can cost $1,500 per semester and most students miss 37 percent of the prepaid meals during the year, without the possibility of a refund.

“If you take into consideration the missed meal factor in the dorms, the off-campus plan is much cheaper,” Lemcke said.

With nearly 1,000 students using the meal plan at the University this fall and 12,000 students participating nationwide, more restaurants are participating around town.

“We want to have as much variety as students want,” Lemcke said. “New restaurants are added as we get recommendations from students.”

Restaurants who sign contracts with the Network pay the company 10 percent of sales through the card.

The International House of Pancakes (IHOP), 308 E. Green St., is one of 22 restaurants involved in the plan. Owner Larry McDonald has participated in the program for more than a year.

“I think it’s a great program to help get repeat customers in the restaurant,” McDonald said.

However, the equipment required to swipe students’ cards at both IHOP and Green Street Coffeehouse, another participating restaurant located at 608 E. Green St., has created some problems.

“I’m not happy with the machine right now,” McDonald said. “It hasn’t worked since it was reprogrammed from the Green Street Meal Plan and we lose money if the card won’t swipe.”

Lemcke thinks the problems stem from confusion over the new software.

“It takes some time to get used to the system and hopefully the problems will be ironed out in the next week or so,” Lemcke said.

Elizabeth Martinez, who has worked at Green Street Coffeehouse for three years, said she believes more practice with the machine would work out the kinks, but fewer students have used the card in the coffeehouse so far this year.

“We don’t get enough customers around who use the card,” Martinez said. “But I can see why it is useful. It’s nice to have an alternative to the dorm meal plans.”

Because of the additional restaurant options in the program, veteran participants may see their business decrease slightly although there are more students using the plan, Lemcke said.

“The word has to keep on spreading to attract those students who don’t know about the program,” Lemcke said.

As the off-campus meal plan continues to gather students who are looking for relief from their residence hall and apartment meals, Lemcke hopes to eventually see the off-campus and on-campus plans linked together.

“We hope to eventually have one system linked through the student ID card,” Lemcke said. “In an ideal situation, students will have both options.”

For more information about OCDN, visit their Web site at www.ocdn.com.