The Elevate Corner Meal Plan is heading into its second semester of operation, but has doubled its original membership during that time, though the co-founders declined to share specific figures.
Restaurants in the program now stand at a total of 18, with eight new establishments added recently or joining in the coming weeks.
Elevate — which is not an official University-sponsored meal plan — is organized to allow students to pay a set price for a certain meal plan for restaurants on the Corner.
“The meal plan is an alternative at U.Va. where students can use their swipes on restaurants that are on the Corner, and we are trying to provide an alternate but something that is also really convenient for students,” Seth Kramer, the plan’s co-founder, said. “They don't have to carry around cash or credit card, but just the app on their phone.”
Meal plan options range from three meals to 105 meals with price points from $33 to $1,045. Comparatively, the Semester 50 meal plan provided by ARAMARK, the University’s dining service, costs $855 and their Semester 100 meal plan costs $1,360, although a key difference is the University offers an all-you-can-eat buffet at its dining halls while Elevate offers individual meals.
“The value for the meals that you are getting is that you will generally be able to save a little money,” Kramer said. “Any meals that aren’t used for the semester are rolled over into the next semester or summer.”
Each business pre-selects a group of meals or options that count as a meal swipe for students to use. Eight more restaurants have just signed on, including Zip Chicken, Littlejohn’s Deli and Pigeon Hole.
“The whole point of it is making it beneficial for the restaurants,” Josh Cohen, co-founder of the plan, said. “We are driving more students to their establishments and so that is pretty appealing to restaurants on its own and some of them we have had relationships with in the past so it was pretty easy to expand them to Elevate.”
Some businesses have noticed a high rate of recurring students that continuously use the meal plan as their source for food.
“We have only been doing it for a short time,” Mike Keenan, owner of The Juice Laundry, said. “We haven't had a huge number of students using it, but we have had a lot of students using it repeatedly. We may not appeal to all students, but after nine to 10 days we have already seen people’s names appear nine to ten times already.”
Elevate also appeals to prospective businesses as a better way to expand their local following within the University and Charlottesville community.
“The meal plan seems to be a good deal for the students and, from my perspective, it is a cool way to expand our business to kids who may not have known about us,” Keenan said.
Elevate may be convenient for students who live off-Grounds or closer to the Corner.
“I thought that it would be a good alternative to the University meal plan, the food is a lot better and a lot closer,” second-year College student Sarah Vanlandingham said. “I live off of Rugby Road and so a lot of the places are closer than Newcomb, which is the closest dining hall to me.”
Kramer said Elevate has exceeded the goals that the two had set when the founders originally started. However, some students have raised the issue with the use of an app to order all meals in the plan.
“The only thing that is a slight inconvenience at times is that you have to order through your phone,” Vanlandingham said. “So if your phone is dead, you have to do it another way which makes it a bit complicated, but otherwise that is about it.”
While the program includes many local restaurants, many student favorites —like Bodo’s Bagels, Boylan Heights and The Virginian — have yet to join the meal plan.
“I think membership could be improved if Elevate published and advertised the menu items included with the meal plan at the specific restaurants they have partnered with,” fourth-year College student Carolyn Oare, who is not a member of the Elevate plan, said. “I also think if more restaurants were included, membership would be boosted.”