DDS vs. Common Sense

by Caleb Powers | 11/23/04 6:00am

Scanning the breakfast menu at Norma's restaurant in the stylish Parker Meridien Hotel in New York City, you tend to notice a couple of things. First, you notice the tempting, ambrosial quality of every single tantalizing item listed: Blueberry pancakes with Devonshire cream, waffles stuffed with fruit with a crackly brle top; it's a big, classy smorgasbord. The second thing you'll notice is more shocking than it is tempting; it's a $1,000 omelet. Named self-parodically "The Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata," the "super size" omelet features a whole lobster, six eggs and 10 ounces of Sevruga caviar.

A $1,000 omelet? Who do the people at Norma's think they are? Dartmouth Dining Services?

When I was visiting as a prospective student, I lost my free meal ticket and had to pay cash for my meals. I was shocked when my garden salad from the salad bar came out to be more expensive than any similar salad I'd ever had. I brushed it off as an aberration in what must surely have been a more reasonable system of pricing. Besides, the rest of the weekend was free beyond the plane tickets, so I considered it a fair trade.

When I got to campus in the fall, I was given my Dartmouth Card and entered into a world of fake money where I never checked prices on anything. My parents put the money on my ample-sized Big Green plan and I could buy whatever I wanted. Life was good.

It's amazing how accustomed I've gotten to paying for everything with my card without thinking about it. I actually tried to pay with my card at a toll booth on the way to Manchester the other day.

As it happened, one day I was in the Hop and thought to myself, as I do from time to time, that I would enjoy a small fruit salad. As I opened the glass door to grab one, I noticed a sticker demanding over $3 for the melon medley. Dude, where's my common sense? What an absurd asking for such puny portions. I still bought it because I was hungry, but bitterly, mind you.

Since that day, I've paid a little more attention to prices. That isn't to say that I've been anymore discriminate in my purchases, but I've been more and more confused every time my card is swiped. I recently dropped $30 at Topside for a box of PowerBars and regularly spend way too much on a whole host of items.

I come back to the example of the cup of melon for over $3. What's the defense, the rationale? Is it that my DBA isn't dollar for dollar so they are justified in raising prices? Well then, why don't you just make my DBA dollar for dollar, let me put in the money that I need, and not charge me like I'm eating at Norma's.

I hate to criticize DDS too much, because the food and variety thereof here is great, especially relative to other colleges, and a lot of the prices here are perfectly reasonable if not a deal. However, some of the system just seems backwards. There are not four distinct amounts of food that all students eat, so why pretend that's the case with only four meal plan options? A lot of students run into the negative, and a lot of others with less-demanding appetites are forced to hurriedly waste all of their DBA on conveniently overpriced products at Topside or extra food at meals that ends up going to other people or just the trash. Why wouldn't the credits roll over? Then the meal plans might make more sense, instead of the zero sense that they make to me now.

Admittedly, I haven't investigated what happens to the profit that DDS must be making, but it really doesn't matter. It should be the goal of DDS to provide good food as cheaply, efficiently and intelligently as possible. It should not be offering "free money" incentives for students to buy bigger meal plans than they need that are justified by overpriced food.

I can go elsewhere for that.

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