Adam Giffi, Senior Staff Writer

For those students living off-campus who don’t always have the desire or time to cook, and maybe even miss on-campus food options, Student Housing and Meal Plan Services hopes to have the perfect solution: climb aboard the “Miami Express.”

“Miami Express” is a brand new meal plan for off-campus students to use beginning with the Fall 2011 semester. Lucinda Coveney, director of housing contracts and meal plans, explained why the new plan came to be.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our products and services and so we conducted surveys and focus groups with off-campus students last spring and used that feedback to create a new off-campus meal plan,” Coveney said. “Currently about one half of our off-campus population purchases a meal plan and the results of our research showed that there was a real desire for improvements.”

Of course, “Miami Express” isn’t the first off-campus meal plan but Coveney said its features may make it the best. She explained that Miami debuted off-campus plans in 1978. Attaché, the predecessor to the “Miami Express” plan, premiered in 1997.  According to Coveney, students felt this plan did not add any benefits as a meal plan over cash and credit, a problem she feels has been rectified.

“The Attaché is being discontinued because the ‘Miami Express’ is just a new and improved version. It’s still a flexible spending account but with many additional features,” Coveney said. “One thing students may not realize is that all Miami meal plans are tax exempt, which gives the customer and additional 6.25 percent savings, also “Miami Express” holders will receive a 30 percent discount when dining in our buffet locations, that was formerly 15 percent. We are also going to have special events and deals across campus and Sundial Pizza can only be used by meal plan holders and this includes ‘Miami Express’ plan holders.”

Kristina Rotundo, Executive Manager of Haines Food Court, Tuffy’s, Spring Street Market and The Sundial Pizza Co., explained how the Sundial services will work for off-campus plan holders.

“Ordering is very easy, all students have to do is log onto My Card and click on the Sundial link and place an order using their meal plan,” Rotundo said. “New this year we’ll offer delivery to university recognized fraternities and sororities. A big thing we found out from our focus groups was that these houses really wanted these delivery services.”

Rotundo said that other off-campus students will order in the same way and pick up their order from Tuffy’s, located in the Shriver center. Along with the pizza, toasted subs, hot wings, pasta, salad, and beverages offered by Sundial, Rotundo also explained specifically how the plan will work at the other dining locations.

“The Miami Express is for Heritage Commons residents, off-campus and commuter students. Students can request a meal plan online by logging into My Card or they can stop by the Housing and Meal Plan office,” Rotundo said. “The account resides on the Miami ID card, so it’s a convenient way to purchase meals and snacks, and it’s also easy to add money to the account by simply going to the My Card page.”

According to Rotundo, the plans available are a $100, $150, $300, $500, $1,000, $1,500, $2,000 and $2,500 plan.

Features weren’t the only important element in creating a new meal plan. Both Coveney and Rotundo said that finding an easier and more applicable name than the hard-to-say “Attaché” was another goal of the process. To do so, Coveney said they went to the students.

“We also wanted to create a spark by asking students for ideas to name the new plan. We asked students through an electronic survey that we sent to all off-campus students, we held a variety of focus groups and we also put out posters,” Coveney said. “Then there was a committee that worked on the entire restructuring of the new off-campus plan and so we took all of the submissions we received and each of the committee members picked their 10 favorites and then we narrowed it down from there.”

According to Coveney, the name “Miami Express” came from a submission by third year Tracy Heinz.

Rotundo explained why the committee was drawn to Heinz’s submission.

“We felt like it kind of captured what the meal plan is all about which is to be a service and convenience for our students,” Rotundo said.

Heinz said she only just discovered that her name submission was the winner in the past few days. She explained how she came up with the name and also what it feels like to be the winner.

“As I was brainstorming names, the word express came to me and it just stuck. When I think of express, I think of quick and convenient which is exactly what our new meal plan is designed to be,” Heinz said. “I am thrilled. It is great to be able to contribute to the culture at Miami and leave behind a legacy.”

Not only is Heinz excited to be the one to name the plan, she said she will also be using it.

“The new meal plan is a lot more convenient for off-campus students and I will definitely take advantage of it,” Heinz said.

With a new name and a slew of new features, Coveney said now is truly a great time to have an off-campus meal plan.

“We think that with locations close to every classroom it’s so convenient to use in between classes and when having meals with friends,” Coveney said. “With all the new incentives, it’s definitely advantageous to have a meal plan instead of using cash or credit. “