Duplicitous DDS

by Jacob Baron | 11/21/06 6:00am

In general, Dartmouth Dining Services does a superb job of feeding the campus community. Its food is reliably appealing, sometimes excellent. For an institution that serves thousands of meals each day, that record is difficult to beat. Indeed, the logistical issues behind such an extensive culinary operation must be extraordinary. But there are a few matters on which DDS policy seems needlessly off the mark, and could probably be fixed with relative ease.

First, why does the Courtyard Cafe stop serving pancakes, waffles, and French toast at 11:00 a.m.? The cutoff seems artificial, and it is a great inconvenience. For the many students who love traditional sweet breakfasts but for whom sleep is decidedly more important in the morning, the policy can be irritating. And it does not seem that much would have to be changed in order to remove the 11:00 breakfast cutoff. If there is waffle batter left over at 11:23, and a student orders a waffle, why not serve one? It is possible that there is there a local or state law that sets a four-hour limit on the duration for which a batch of waffle batter may be lawfully used in a Hanover restaurant (7:00 to 11:00 a.m. in the case of Courtyard Cafe)? Even if there is such a law, continuing sweet breakfast service past 11:00 by making a second batch of batter at that time would probably be profitable for DDS.

Second, salads at DDS locations are inordinately expensive. I understand that DDS foods tend to be expensive in general, probably for sound economic reasons. But salads seem strikingly so, and I see little reason for these prices. DDS could do a great deal to encourage healthy eating by lowering salad prices even slightly. A corresponding rise in the prices of less healthy items, such as pizza and French fries, would recoup most of the lost profits. In addition to encouraging healthier eating, this would allow DDS to add "encouraging healthy eating" to its list of feel-good image initiatives, such as encouraging "sustainable dining" and providing "diverse dining facilities."

Third, why is there no "rollover" policy for any outstanding balance on the Topside Declining Balance Account at the end of a term? For the Dining DBA, outstanding balance is added to one's total for the next term. Why is this policy not in place for the Topside account? I can think of only one reason: to save DDS money at students' expense. The lack of a rollover policy for the Topside account allows DDS to keep the outstanding balance on each student's account without providing merchandise of equal value. But if this is the reason there is no rollover policy, why does DDS place signs on its cash registers encouraging students to use all of their Topside dollars? This gesture, at least, shows that it seems to have students' interests at heart. But if it is truly concerned that students get the most for their money, why not let them spend it when they want, without an artificial deadline at the end of each term? The reason cannot be logistical, because a rollover policy is already in place for the Dining DBA.

Fourth, in a similar vein, why are students forced to purchase a dining plan of a particular value? Again, I can only assume it is to save DDS money at students' expense. Even with the rollover policy, those who consistently spend less per term than the smallest plan offered ($950, or $600 for students living off-campus) simply accumulate rolled-over balance from term to term, and they are not recompensed for unspent dollars at Commencement. This simply delays the institutional theft for four years, rather than letting it occur at the end of each term. If DDS truly has students' interests at heart, it should allow them to purchase dining plans of whatever values they wish. Or better yet, do away with the Declining Balance Account model altogether. Simply start every student with a balance of $0, and bill each student once per month or once per term for any outstanding negative balance on his or her dining account.

Once again, I believe strongly that DDS does a superb job in general. But some of its policies are inconvenient, or even harmful to students, despite that a few simple and obvious changes would improve them significantly. On these issues, DDS should sort out its motives and get its act together.