Commodores get creative to maximize their extra $50-a-day

Students optimize their extra $50-a-day with “Meal Money hacks” as Vanderbilt administration struggles to respond to understaffed dining halls.

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Emily Gonçalves

Ice cream from Jeni’s, as photographed in 2018. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Jorie Fawcett and Veronica Tadross

During the first week back on campus, students on Vanderbilt’s meal plan faced a major switch-up as the dining hall confronted staffing issues. For each day between Aug. 23 and 29, every student received $50 in Meal Money to spend on food and snacks (and pretty much anything else). 

This move gave students the chance to explore Nashville and find ways to make the most of their Meal Money. Although the program has since ended, it is not implausible that students will have this opportunity again in the future if the staffing problem persists. In that case—or otherwise just for your entertainment—here are our top eight hacks to make the most of Papa Cornelius’s money on and around campus.

Stock up at Munchie Marts & vending machines.

Munchie Marts offer fresh and frozen items that could last students well beyond the end of the $50-a-day period. Students stocked up on granola bars, candy, frozen fruit, energy drinks and more at the end of the day, trying to use every last cent. While some also took advantage of the extra cash by stocking up on medicine and toiletries, others got even more innovative, like buying a calculator for a math class.

Kissam Munchie Mart, as photographed in Aug. 2019. (Hustler Multimedia/Sandra She)

Vending Machines are a classic option that also accept Commodore Cash. On the final day of the $50 program, I headed over to the vending machine in Rand and stocked up on granola bars, Kit Kats and pop tarts—great treats and even breakfast options for when the dining halls are inaccessible. Well-stocked vending machines can be found in Rand Dining Hall, Sarratt Student Center, the Commons Center and almost every Commons dormitory and Residential College.

Get Grubb(Hub)ing.

With free delivery for Vanderbilt students, the GrubHub app grants access to restaurants in the Nashville area, even many that aren’t participants in the Taste of Nashville program—all with the convenience of front-door delivery.

Students pretty much have their pick of cuisine, from pizza to açai bowls to steak. Although GrubHub does not deliver from grocery stores, some students ordered from 7-Eleven to stock up on bottled water, snacks and other dorm room essentials they couldn’t get at Munchie Marts. 

Next time you stock up, be wary of GrubHub ‘scammers’ with fake restaurants. Additionally, some food spots like Jamba Juice are listed as Taste of Nashville restaurants but do not accept Commodore Cards—they only give you 50 percent off your order for being a student. GrubHub thus becomes a way to “hack” Jamba when you’re really craving that Caribbean Passion smoothie.

Order with next-day delivery.

GrubHub also provides a variety of hacks that break the boundaries of the “$50-a-day” rule, such as the advance order feature, which lets students schedule orders for future dates. 

The California and Tropical rolls from I Love Sushi. (Hustler Staff/Veronica Tadross)

On the final day of the $50 program, as other students’ money “timed out,” first-year Calla Reardon used her Meal Money to schedule a meal in advance. 

“I ordered breakfast for the next day,” Reardon said. “You don’t really have to spend the money in one day.”

Pamper your parents.

Amidst homesickness and distance from family, first-year student Danna Chacon delivered GrubHub food not only to herself but to family members and friends across the country. 

“I sent food to my mom this week,” Chacon said. “She was like, ‘why are people at the door?’ She was super grateful and it was a great way to use the money instead of just wasting it on myself or not using it at all.”

Cop some merch.

Despite what the name implies, “Meal” Money doesn’t have to satisfy only your food cravings. At multiple Taste of Nashville spots, you can find custom merchandise ranging from T-shirts to baseball caps to decorative bags, all purchasable with the Commodore Card.

At Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, in addition to Golden Nectar ice cream and other eccentric flavors, you can find baseball caps branded with Jeni’s logo in a host of colors. Merchandise options will depend on the day, and many students were found checking these out during the Vandypocalypse. Students also bought T-shirts from the Grilled Cheeserie with designs like “I Heart Grilled Cheese.”

Get tip-sy.

No matter whether you’re looking to empty your dining funds or just grab a quick coffee, food service workers always appreciate tips. Many restaurants were not prepared for the swarm of students coming to buy large quantities of food, and for some restaurants, like Urban Juicer, the line extended past the door. Tipping well is a great way to show appreciation to busy employees and put the final few dollars to good use (rather than just giving it back to Vanderbilt). 

A photogenic smoothie from Urban Juicer. (Hustler Staff/Jorie Fawcett)

To-go food for the fridge.

Restaurants like Jeni’s, Urban Juicer and Mellow Mushroom offer to-go options along with their fresh options. Pizza is arguably better cold, and Mellow Mushroom has an extensive menu of unique pies. Urban Juicer has a full cooler at the entrance with pressed juices, salads and wraps. For a sweet snack later, Jeni’s ships nationwide and also offers pints to go, in flavors like “coffee with cream and sugar” and “mango cheesecake swirl.” These pints fit perfectly in a dorm fridge and are much more interesting options than the vanilla and chocolate Blue Bunny at Munchie Marts.

Gift cards galore.

Since the $50-a-day did not roll over into the next day, many students used their money to buy gift cards. Students were able to go to restaurants and purchase a gift card for their desired amount. That way money was not wasted and students were able to try out certain restaurants even after the program ended.

However, not every restaurant allowed students to exercise this hack. Some, like Elliston Place Soda Shop and Donato’s Pizza, allowed for the purchase of gift cards, while Jeni’s nixed the idea midweek after receiving an email instructing them to do so. Others said that some restaurants’ card readers were down and they could not purchase anything with the Commodore Card.

Vanderbilt’s $50-a-day program, while implemented to lessen the load on dining staff, has also presented students with countless opportunities to take advantage of everything Nashville has to offer—opportunities you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss if the “crisis” strikes again.