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Eidtorial: Stretching meal Dollars

Sept. 19, 1996


Stretching meal dollars

Dining services benefits students with plan for declining discounts

The issue:

University staff receive half-price meals in the Bill Daniel Student Center while students who make use of declining balance receive no discount.

Our view:

Even though the University carries the other half of staff lunch costs, the pending declining balance discount plan will be a welcome addition to the menu.

After grabbing a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, fries and a drink, you walk to a check-out line in the Bill Daniel Student Center dining court. The University staff employee in front of you bought the same thing for $2.29. You hand the cashier your student identification card, and your declining balance account is debited for $4.58.

University staff pay 50 percent less than students? At first glance that might seem the case. However, the privilege of eating for half price is just one of the benefits that the University bestows on its employees.

Irv Russell, director of dining services, described it as similar to medical or other employee benefits. The University picks up the tab for half of staff dining bills. That doesn't mean that students are subsidizing the staff employees' dining budgets.

Russell said that ARAMARK, the company that manages University dining facilities, bills the university the full price for an employee's meal. Then the University deducts half the cost from the employee's paycheck while covering the other half of the cost.

So what appears to be an unfair practice is actually a fringe benefit of being an employee of the University.

One staff employee even said it is one of the perks they receive in lieu of a higher salary.

Faculty also receive the discount if the Harrington House, the faculty dining facility on Eight Street, is closed.

Now that students, faculty and staff appear to be on a somewhat-level 'paying field,' another issue that needs to be addressed is declining balance. Students can start accounts with the University with $50 payments that are subsequently credited to them. The money then can be used for food purchases in the dining court.

Though the $50 is paid up front, the money might not be used completely for several semesters, depending on the eating habits of the particular student.

Since the University now has $50 of a student's money, he cannot use it for other things and cannot let it sit in the bank to draw interest.

We feel that the University or ARAMARK should give students an incentive for using declining balance. When such a plan was suggested to Russell Wednesday afternoon, he said he had just discussed that idea earlier in the day. Russell said that implementation of a discount plan may begin within the next week or two. He said it may provide a discount if a student purchases a certain dollar amount of products.

Russell said declining balance is an easier process than cash for all people involved. It is faster and more convenient because students do not have to keep a supply of cash on them. The cashiers are also able to complete a transaction with a swipe of the card instead of dealing with cash.

Though some may believe the fast-food franchises in the student center charge more for their products than they do at other locations, Chick-Fil-A's numbers don't support that premise. A Chick-Fil-A sandwich at the student center costs $2.25, which is the same price charged at their Richland Mall location.

It would be a common misconception since it seems the University every year raises the cost of going to school. We sometimes take a negative view of the price of anything on campus. If the copies in Moody Memorial Library were raised to 15 cents from 10 cents, some students would claim the University was gouging the students. (As far as we know, there is no plan to raise copy prices.)

When it comes to dining services, we sometimes take a negative stance. Sure there are things that need attention; but at the same time, as consumers of its products, we need to let the managers and directors know our thoughts through direct contact and the comment cards located in the dining areas.

Russell said that campus dining services continually look for new ideas and products for students. Examples of that quest include the rotisserie line at Penland Dining Hall and the new Center Stage feature lines.

We applaud the recent innovations at the dining halls, especially the intent to bring a discount plan to the declining balance program. We hope that it will provide at least a 10 percent discount for those who use the service on a regular basis and will even provide an increased incentive for students to take advantage of it.

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