The price of convenience

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh

Aramark, the provider of SDSU’s dining services, is the butt of many student jokes. As in the Capers skit, some students believe Aramark charges outrageously high prices for even a single French fry.

Sophomore Carlos Flores lives in the student apartment Berg and opted not to purchase a meal plan. “I buy my own food and make it myself,” he said.

However, he will occasionally dine on campus. “Maybe one time a week,” he said, because it can be convenient.

However, Flores thinks the food is “expensive. It’s like $6 for a hamburger and fries, and you could go to Hardee’s and get hamburger, fries and pop for like $4.”

The actual numbers are like this. Take, for example, the purchase of a breakfast sandwich and a small cup of coffee. At Aramark, the total is $2.52. Try McDonald’s, however, and you can throw in hashbrowns and still get away for $2.40. Burger King is the best deal of all, with the sandwich, coffee, and hashbrowns costing $2.30.

John Sterbis, the Director of Dining Services, explained the meal plan system. “We have 2500 students on one plan or another,” he said.

He explained the various types of meal plans, which are either Entitlement Plans, which allow students a certain number of all-you-can-eat meals, or Declining Balance Plans, which allow for a-la-carte dining all over campus.

Of the meal plans, the Declining Balance Jacks’ Max is the most popular.

“About 60 percent of the students have Jacks’ Max,” Sterbis said. Another 25 percent have the Declining Balance Hungry Hobo plan, and the remaining 15 percent have either Campanile Gold or Campanile Silver, two popular Entitlement Plans.

Sterbis was able to clear up some misconceptions students have.

“We precollect the tax, and then that tax comes off your amount at the register, so you’re only being taxed once,” he explained.

What about that $124 tacked onto every meal plan, called the “Bond/Utility” charge?

The fine print of the SDSU Dining Services pamphlet reads “Bond and Utility Fee is assessed to all Residence Hall students who are on meal plans. This fee is to cover the cost of the bond service for the renovation of Larson and Medary Commons as well as to cover the cost of utilities in these facilities”?for example, the lights, Sterbis explained.

Sterbis added that Aramark recently purchased $50,000-worth of equipment for the Larson and Union kitchens, “something we don’t normally do out of the goodness of our heart,” he said.

However, Sterbis said, “We have a good partnership here and we wanted to give something back. That’s something people don’t see is the amount of money we do put into the university.”

Despite complaints of the expense of Aramark, Sterbis said SDSU has one of the cheapest dining programs around, including other SD Aramark schools such as USD, Northern and the School of Mines.

“[Other universities have] much more expensive ones,” he said. “We are one of the cheapest ones. We are constantly among the most economical meal plans not only in the state but in the region and the nation.”

Sterbis said many universities have an average cost of $1850 per semester.

“The average here is $900,” he said, “so we’re well below.”

Do SDSU students agree that their food is a bargain? There are mixed reviews.

Freshman Victoria Grundl is very happy with her Campanile meal plan. “I don’t have to spend my own cash out of my own pocket [to eat],” she said, “and I can go to the C-Store.”

The on-campus convenience store, which offers foods such as chips, bread and canned soup, accepts meal plan dollars. Grundl appreciates the store, where she shops for “paper towels, batteries, without spending my own money.”

Grundl says she generally eats on campus five times a week. “Three days a week I eat dinner here, and two days a week I eat supper here,” she said. “It’s convenient.”

Much as she appreciates her meal plan, Grundl said she would not purchase one if she didn’t live on campus. “If I lived in an apartment I would just cook my own food,” she said.

Rather than worrying about spending too much money, Grundl fears she isn’t spending enough. “I can eat anywhere, anything,” she said. “I could run out, but it’d be hard to do.” So she’s working hard to spend it. “Any extra money I have at the end of the year the university gets back, and I don’t really want them to get it back.”

Besides, it’s her parents’ money. “My parents paid for my meal plan,” she said, “so I could not afford it if I were parentless.”

Sophomore Dustin Wagner also appreciates the convenience of his meal plan.

“I have Jacks’ Max,” he said. “[I eat on campus] every day, two or three times a day.”

What about the prices, which some students dismiss as outrageous?

“Most of the prices are reasonable,” Wagner said, “but sometimes they have things that are too expensive. Last year at Medary they had steak night, and I thought that was too expensive. For mass-produced steaks they were charging an awful lot.”

Where Wagner’s funds for food come from doesn’t seem to faze him. “It’s on tuition, so loans and scholarship [cover it],” he said.

Are there other advantages?does Aramark’s food tickle the taste buds more? “No, not really,” Flores said.

Wagner, however, does think Aramark’s food has a jump on Burger King and other comparisons. “I’d say [Aramark] is healthier than McDonald’s and Burger King, but it’s not quite as fancy as going out.”

Grundl has her own scale for Aramark. “It’s better than fast food like McDonald’s, but not better than like Perkins,” she said.