Business Pointers for DDS

by Daniel Ng | 10/23/03 5:00am

DDS excels at being predictable, like the predictable southern fried chicken on Mondays at Food Court, or the predictable deep-fried bits of seafood on Fridays. Homeplate dishes out roast turkey dinners on Sunday nights without fail. On top of all that, DDS can always be counted on losing money. In fact, the business prospects of DDS are so bright that the director of dining services has been quoted in this newspaper that they only aim to break even.

DDS's track record is dismal. In the real world, a business like DDS would have gone through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings ten times over and had its dishes sold for pennies to pay the milkman. Luckily, DDS does not pretend to be a real business. It is a monopoly that forces students to pay increasing amounts of money for the same predictable menu. Every year, the basic meal plan goes up by $50 per term, much more than the rate of inflation. I could ask my mum, but I guess the cost of food ingredients probably didn't go up by that much either. The hourly wage for DDS student workers has gone up by a quarter to a princely $7.00 from $6.75 an hour. What is all that price increase going into?

Perhaps it is time for DDS to revamp its business. The years of consistent losses suggest something inherently wrong with its business format. The constant increases in meal plans have not closed the gaping hole in DDS's accounts. There is a limit to how much students can be squeezed to hide DDS's shame.

DDS needs to cut costs. Let's start with the nice paper cups and bags that have the DDS logo printed on them. Who are we kidding? DDS needs to put its McDonald's pretensions aside and realize that advertising on paper cups and bags isn't going to improve business. No Hanover resident is going to rush into Food Court because he just saw a Dartmouth student walk pass with a DDS plastic bag. No one in Lebanon is going to call up for franchising opportunities either. My advice, go for cheap. A cheap blank paper cup is still a paper cup as long as it works.

The same drive should focus on packaging. The plastic boxes that DDS uses are expensive. There should be cheaper alternatives out there. I am sure there is a factory somewhere in China that can produce decent single-use packaging material at a decent price. Packaging doesn't need to be so sturdy, either. We are not buying Tupperware here, all we need is something that can survive the walk from Foodcourt to the River.

At the same time, DDS could put more effort into tracking down its family silver. Dartmouth students are notorious thieves, and DDS certainly spends too much money on buying new silverware. Instead of waiting for students to turn their cutlery in, DDS could organize an amnesty drive at the end of each term. Offer some reward: One quarter for every spoon turned in, 1 dollar for the salad bowl. In that way, DDS can still save some money.

DDS also needs more price flexibility. Just the other day, I saw two bins of bananas in Collis that were starting to brown. There was another bin with bright yellow bananas. Guess which bins remained unsold at the end of the day? People operating real businesses know all about markdowns and other ways of clearing out inventory. But no, for DDS, we must hang on to every last brown banana in order to preserve that sacrosanct 70 cents price level for a piece of fruit.

Finally, DDS needs to consider seriously the viability and necessity of all its operations. Besides the Thayer/Collis restaurant district, DDS has operations at the East Wheelock Cluster, the Hanover Country Club and the Dartmouth skiway. We also have the Pavilion catering to specific religious diets. At the end of the day, does DDS really need to sell burgers at the golf course? If an operation is losing money just shut it down. If prices need to be raised at the Pavilion or the East Wheelock Snack Bar in order for them to remain viable, do so.

The time for DDS to act is now. Based on present trends, the Class of 2007 will probably be paying $1000 per term for a basic meal plan by their senior year. If by then DDS is still bleeding money, the director of dining services has some serious explaining to do.