Freshly fried crinkle fries are prepared for serving during lunch rush at Big Sky Burgers, located in the University Center. 

This year the cost of a Food Zoo Exclusive meal plan has increased by nearly 17% to just over $2,800. The All-Campus plan increased by about 5% to just above $2,800. However, Camp Howard, the UM Dining director, said that the plans now come with a few more perks.

In the past, the Food Zoo plan cost less, but Howard said he didn’t want to devalue either of the meal plans, since they both cost about the same amount functionally. “Let’s just make the plans the same price and let the student decide, not let the price drive that decision,” Howard said.

New additions to both plans include $200 in Flex (from $100 last year) and five free guest meals. This means that five times per semester, students can swipe guests into the Food Zoo without being charged the extra $3.75 entry fee.

“We thought even though we did raise the price, which we needed to just to cover our costs, let’s give the students more flexibility, and add more Flex dollars for those students that want to eat in different places on campus,” Howard said.

Trail Bundy, UM Dining’s marketing and communication manager, said that for the 2019 fiscal year, about 76% of revenue (most of which comes from student meal plan fees) covers food costs and employee wages. The rest covers overhead charges. Overhead includes rent, utilities and repairs, and more.

Because UM Dining is an independent entity from the University and thus receives no state funding, it relies on student fees to remain operational.

For the All-Campus meal plan, students get a weekly allowance of $78.75 — enough to swipe into to the Food Zoo three times a day every week. However, the money can also be spent at other locations on campus.

If money isn’t used up by the end of the week, it’s put into a capital fund that UM Dining uses for a variety of products and services, including dishes and carpeting in the Food Zoo. This year, 57% of students chose the All-Campus meal plan.

Freshman Madison Morgan chose the All-Campus plan because it cost the same as the Food Zoo plan and she doesn’t always want to eat at the Food Zoo, she said. “I’d rather have the option. Especially late at night when I haven’t eaten yet, I go to Pizza Hut.”

Howard said the value of the meal plans are associated with their convenience. UM does the budgeting, cleaning and cooking. Howard also said that UM Dining takes pride in the quality of the food, which mostly comes from on-campus gardens, local Montana agriculture and small businesses.

Morgan said she usually is satisfied with the food she gets, but is sometimes disappointed. Freshman Andrew Marriner has the Food Zoo Exclusive plan, and he said the quality depends on the day.

“I’d say it’s kind of a coin flip,” Marriner said.