On-campus dining needs improvement

Stephen McGarvey

Students living on campus depend on the $1,700 that the Division of Housing and Food Services provides to feed them. They need a meal plan that is versatile in hours, diverse in options and, most importantly, that will last until the end of the year. Unfortunately, campus dining fails at all of these criteria. If UT wants to present a viable option for student dining, it must provide better hours, fairer pricing and more Bevo Bucks.

At an academically rigorous institution such as UT, students are often awake at odd and unpredictable hours, and they need sustenance to push through until morning. Unfortunately, on-campus stores such as Kin’s Market and Jester City Market close between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m., depending on the day. For clarity, the article will refer to these UT locations from this point forward as “inconvenient” stores.

UT claims it cannot sustain a profitable business model if it keeps its “inconvenient” stores open on weekend afternoons or late at night, but this is a flawed argument at its core. Justifying motives with a standard economic business model makes no sense when the money is only shifting from UT’s left hand to its right regardless. The purpose of UT’s food service is not to turn a profit — which is impossible anyway — but rather to serve its student population.
Off-campus convenience stores stay successful while remaining open 24 hours a day, so it seems odd that UT cannot manage the same feat, especially when it has such a cornered market. Just like any normal convenience store, all it would take would be a single worker to handle transactions. The minimal increase in labor costs involved in keeping on-campus dining open later would be well worth the increase in business and would probably save DHFS costs in disposing of unpurchased food at the end of the day.

Additionally, the current plan provides insufficient funds for a standard appetite. With the current meal plan, Bevo Bucks included, students have about $7 a day to feed themselves. Seeing as how a sandwich, chips and a drink costs nearly $10 at Kin’s Market, it seems impossible for a student to survive off this amount without supplementing it with personal funds.

“But look,” says the University to parents, “You can eat at an all-you-can-eat buffet at J2 or Kinsolving Dining Hall twice a day!” That seems like a pretty sweet deal, right?

But there are several facts parents may be unaware of. First of all, this buffet cost is heavily subsidized with the money made up by huge margins on any food purchased in the “inconvenient” stores and a la carte locales. Second, the hours of the buffet are extremely limited, and they are often when students are in class or at meetings. Finally, students are often rushing to class or caught in time crunches between activities, so they do not have time to sit down in the buffet. Rather, they are forced to pick up food from the other locations, where the prices are much higher.

If a student were to eat a single breakfast croissant and orange juice for breakfast, a wrap and bottled water for lunch and a ham sandwich and soda for dinner, he or she would be out of Dine-in Dollars by November. Toss in such luxuries as a cookie and chips into the mix, and the student is broke within two months. The University cannot seriously expect students to live off such meager rations.

The situation is even worse with Bevo Bucks, of which students are only given $300. If a student were to eat off campus twice a week — perhaps on Friday, when Kin’s Market closes at 3 p.m. or Sunday, when the dining hall doesn’t serve dinner — and spend $10, he or she would be out of Bevo Bucks halfway through the year. Add in the cost of laundry, and it’s easy to see why most students are out of Bevo Bucks so quickly. Even with the humblest lifestyle, students have no way to adequately make this flawed meal plan work without having to refill with their own money.

UT only retains about 30 percent of its on-campus residents the following year, and it’s not difficult to see why. The University needs to provide better hours, fairer pricing and a more reasonable amount of Bevo Bucks to its on-campus students. But until it stops seeing the meal plan as a game of dollars and cents, this will never happen. And when the business major of all people tells you it’s time to take your eyes off the financials, you know you have a problem.

McGarvey is a business honors freshman.