I like eating fruit—bananas, apples, oranges, grapefruits, you name it. But I also don’t like spending money, and on-campus, those two things don’t really go well together. I mean, $1.09 for a banana at Hillside? Seriously? I can get a whole bunch of bananas for that much at Wegmans. What’s the deal?
Cam Schauf, Director of Campus Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations, says there’s a reason for that pricing. A good one.
First off, Schauf points out that comparing Hillside to Wegmans is the wrong place to start. Wegmans is a huge store. Its operators can buy products in bulk, and get them for a cheaper price because of it. Hillside doesn’t have that option. The food there is bought not by the truckload, but by the crate, and sometimes even by the broken crate. This leads to higher prices that are more comparable to convenience stores like 7/11 than to places like Wegmans.
Why is fruit specifically so much less expensive at Wegmans? Bulk pricing is a significant part it. Schauf also suggests there is the possibility that Wegmans is selling the fruit at a loss to bring in customers—something big grocery stores can afford to do, but small stores like Hillside can’t.
So, that explains some of it. But Hillside food still seems a bit pricey, even compared to other convenience stores. Why does it cost so much? And where is all that money really going?
Schauf explains that it all goes back to Dining Services.
The budgeting goal of Dining Services is to break even at the end of the year with enough money to put back into the program. And yes, all of the profits go back into the program, paying for everything from dining renovations to replacing equipment. Prices are also adjusted to account for overhead costs, which include things like housekeeping, maintenance, utilities or rent (depending on the space), and paying employees well. Dining Services also pays a small fee to a company called Aramark, which provides a management team as well as important connections that lead to things like getting a Starbucks on campus. This fee is, of course, accounted for in pricing as well.
So why is Hillside food more expensive than other convenience store food? Schauf points out that overhead fees vary from place to place, and they tend to be slightly higher for a university convenience store than for other convenience stores. Here’s one key reason why: Convenience stores are businesses. They operate with business sense. This means that during slow hours, they close down. If they were to stay open when not a lot of people were buying stuff, the cost of employing workers, of keeping the lights on, etc., would outweigh the profit and they would lose money.
But Dining Services has other things to worry about in addition to good business practices—namely, ensuring convenience for students. This means that its stops stay open longer and at times that don’t necessarily make great business sense because Dining wants students to have access to food when they need it. These extra hours end up being part of overhead costs, since Dining needs to balance out times when there isn’t a lot of traffic during times of higher traffic. But as someone who routinely buys food from Hillside at 12:30 a.m., it certainly seems worth it to me.
On the whole, Schauf reminds us that the people in charge of Dining Services are very careful to review each operation and make sure that they’re being good stewards of the money they receive from students. All prices are carefully considered, and are the result of a myriad of complex factors that can’t be simply distilled into, “Oh yeah, the University overcharges for food.”
You are free to buy food at Wegmans, of course, and it may make more sense for your budget to do so, but next time you’re tempted to complain about Hillside prices, just remember—they are like that for a reason.