Campus food: Worth the price?

Stephanie Park

Students, Dining Services debate appropriate costs for food

A price tag at Munchies in Prentice Hall shows three variously priced items. Students have debated whether prices for on-campus food are higher than necessary.

Credit: Jason Hall

Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats: $4.99.

Chex Mix: $3.29.

Odwalla Smoothie: $2.99.

Shopping on campus – not exactly priceless.

“I think (food on campus) is really expensive,” said Julianne Sabistina, sophomore fashion merchandising major, gesturing toward her shopping basket.

Sabistina said she usually buys her groceries on campus but is now considering shopping off campus because of the high prices at on-campus grocery stores such as Rosie’s Rations and the Eastway Deli.

While some students believe on-campus food is overpriced, Jim Razzante, assistant director of Dining Services, said prices are fair because of the many benefits Dining Services offers its customers.

“Dining Services offers convenience,” he said. “We have 23 places (students) can go to now and have these different options.”

Sabistina said convenience is the only reason she buys her groceries on campus. As a sophomore living on campus, Sabistina is required to have a dining plan. She said she doesn’t plan on purchasing one next year.

According to the Dining Services Web site, first- and second-year students are required to purchase a dining plan because “parents/guardians enjoy the comfort of knowing that their student has money that is specifically designated for food and food only.”

Eugene Walters, Dining Services marketing manager, said the dining plan is also useful because it helps teach students about budgeting their money. He said many colleges give students a set amount to spend daily, and money not used each day is lost.

Although some students complain about the requirement of purchasing a dining plan the first two years, Walters said upperclassmen who move off campus tend to miss the luxury and convenience these plans offer.

“I always hear students move off campus and say, ‘I miss my food plan,'” he said.

Walters said there is no reason for students to do so. In order to reach out to commuters, Dining Services began offering a commuter and off-campus dining plan last spring, in addition to the standard plans for on-campus residents.

Megan Clark, senior hospitality management major, said she decided to purchase a commuter and off-campus plan last year because she thought eating on campus was convenient. Now, however, Clark said she just wants to use up the money left on her card.

“I didn’t really eat on campus as much as I thought as a commuter,” she said. “I typically wouldn’t (eat on campus) because it’s very overpriced. A bag of chips is like $4 or $5.”

Senior history major Lindsey Calderwood agreed.

“It’s more expensive than anywhere else you would go,” she said.

Calderwood is a commuter, and she said she regularly shops at Marc’s and Tops because their prices are much lower.

The comparison of Dining Services’ prices to those of larger grocery stores isn’t fair, Walters said.

“We don’t have the buying power that they do,” he said. “They can buy way more and charge less than us.”

Razzante said the price break given to chain stores that buy in bulk is not available for Dining Services.

Clark said she plans on buying on-campus groceries until her money runs out since her money isn’t refundable.

Although many students want their extra money refunded, Razzante said Dining Services is unable to do so. He said the money from the 6,000 dining plans sold this year is needed to pay expenses throughout the year.

“We’re running a business,” he said. “Everybody likes to get paid.”

Dining Services employs more than 65 students and more than 150 full- and part-time employees who receive benefits, Razzante said. Because the money can’t be refunded, he said he wants students to use all their funds.

“We really want everyone to use their dollars,” he said. “We generally see our convenient store purchases go up because students take stuff home with them.”

Walters agreed Dining Services wants students to use all their money.

“We will work with students who have substantial amounts left and sell cases of food so they don’t feel they are wasting (their money),” he said.

Students with extra funds may also purchase gifts with their dining plans from the Basket Shoppe in the Student Center, Walters said. He added students can also take advantage of Eastway’s Delivery Service or can rent Eastway’s private dining room.

Overall, Walters said the majority of students do use their dining dollars to their benefit.

“We have a 99.3 percent usage rate of dining plans,” he said. “Most universities are in the 80s.”

Using all of one’s dining dollars isn’t always the problem. Instead, budgeting one’s money to last all semester can be an issue.

Sabistina said she only has about $70 left on her basic dining plan. Because on-campus food is so expensive, she said it’s hard to make the money last.

Andy Vanek, a freshman integrated mathematics major, agreed high prices would make budgeting a basic or lite dining plan for the entire semester difficult. Thus, he purchased the premium dining plan, which offers students more money.

Overall, Vanek said he thinks dining plans are convenient and worthwhile. He said if his scholarships didn’t pay for his dining plan, he would be willing to pay for it himself.

Along with being convenient, Vanek says he sees other benefits to having a dining plan.

“Having a food card is a big plus,” he said. “You have to learn how to cook but not right now.”

Walters and Razzante both said they hope students will consider all the benefits offered by Dining Services when deciding whether prices are fair. The main benefits Walters said students receive are convenience, quality food and cleanliness.

“We are held to an extremely high quality standard by the Board of Health,” he said.

Students should also consider the atmosphere Dining Services has to offer, Razzante added, referring to the Eastway Cafe and its game boards, comfy couches and fireplaces.

“It wasn’t made for students to just eat and go – Dining Services is an experience,” he said.

It’s up to students to decide whether this experience is priceless – or at least priced right.

Contact room and board reporter Stephanie Park at [email protected].