Does Aramark overcharge?

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

Cody Klein, a sophomore landscape design major from Winner, says on-campus food is overpriced.

“It seems to me that the price we pay for food is too high for what we get,” Klein said.

He is not alone.

For first and second-year students, a sizable chunk of final fees goes to the university-required meal plan.

Some students do say that the food and service are worth the money. Others believe they are getting shorted. A few don’t really care; they just eat.So, are SDSU underclassmen who are forced to purchase one of seven meal plans getting their money’s worth?

David Menzel, director of Dining Services at SDSU, said he and his staff do everything they can to make sure that they are.

SDSU Dining Services contracts through Aramark Food Service.

“We try to get the best possible product we can get, and then offer it for the lowest price we can,” Menzel said.

However, that “lowest price” may not look so low when put in perspective.

When SDSU freshmen and sophomores begin looking at meal plans, they find seven to choose from. Three of the plans offer a certain number of “all-you-can-eat” meals at the Larson Complex, in addition to Flex dollars to be used at any of the on-campus dining facilities. The remaining four plans offer varying amounts of Flex.

For comparison, consider SDSU’s meal plans and those of the University of South Dakota and Dakota State University.

Say you have $845 to spend on a meal plan. That’s how much Cody Klein spent on his Campanile Gold meal plan.

At SDSU, that got him 50 meals and $375 in Flex.

At USD, an $845 plan buys 50 meals and $525 in Flex, $150 more than at SDSU.

For $845 at DSU, Klein would get nearly $900 in Flex because they offer bonus dollars for purchasing the largest plan available there.Why the substantial difference? After all, USD contracts through Aramark, and DSU through Fine Host, which was just acquired by Aramark in December.

Menzel said the difference is because the price of SDSU meal plans includes more than just food. They also include a bond/utility charge.

“That skews the final price significantly,” he said.

The bond/utility charge tacked onto meal plans at SDSU is a $128 addition charged to students living in residence halls. The revenue helps to pay for dining facility renovations and utility costs.

Menzel said when the bond/utility charge is subtracted from the final line, the Campanile Gold plan competes right along side the other two offered at USD and DSU.

Indeed, when the bond/utility charge is subtracted from the cost of the Campanile Gold plan, individual meals cost $5.94, not including sales tax.

Still, USD’s 50/525 plan lists individual meals slightly lower at $5.29.”There are many different factors figured in,” Menzel said of other price differences. “Every different institution figures margin differently. But, I think when you look at similar school system comparisons, especially those Division I schools, SDSU has very competitive meal plans.”

The mission of SDSU Dining Services is to provide the best dining service possible for students by providing modern facilities, high quality food and exceptional service.

The food that is served to SDSU students in the Larson Complex, the University Student Union and the Medary Commons comes from a warehouse in Lincoln, Neb.

Menzel said Aramark sends buyers to check out food products before they are purchased. Like health inspectors, they use specific criteria when selecting product to be used in their food service program.

Menzel said after a food price is set the Dining Services staff does everything in its power to make sure that it does not change.

“We don’t want varying degrees of price changes all the time,” he said.

“If food prices wholesale fluctuate slightly, we don’t want to pass those minimal changes on. Only drastic changes wholesale will affect the margin you see out front.”Trista Richards, a sophomore Psychology major from Newcastle, Wyo., usually eats at Medary Commons.

“I’m on the Jack’s Max plan,” she said. “Yeah, I guess I do get my money’s worth, but at times the price seems a little steep.”

Richards’ Jack’s Max plan offers $794.50 in Flex for a cost of $840.50.

Megan Jaros is a sophomore History major from Rapid City. She said she feels like she gets her money’s worth for the most part, but occasionally the food served does not live up to her standards.

“They offer a pretty good variety, but sometimes the food can be a little undercooked,” she said. “I’m paying good money for the food. At least it can be cooked through all the way.”