$540 A Pop

by Phil Aubart | 5/20/08 2:01am

Dartmouth Dining Services has a pricing system that surely shocks us all. Although we have become rather apathetic about the exorbitant costs involved with eating at Dartmouth, the concept that our Declining Balance Accounts are not filled with real money cannot completely desensitize us to the costs of eating here. I understand that DDS is a 'self-sufficient' business, meaning that all of its costs must be covered by its revenues. Some of its prices, however, demand scrutiny. One of these is the cost of fountain soda (my Minnesota heritage cringes at the use of the word "soda" for "pop").

A 16-ounce glass of soda from the Food Court soda fountain costs $1.35. That would be $540 for a 50-gallon barrel of soda. So, what's the big deal -- that's probably an average cost for a fountain soda these days, right? Here's the catch. A 20-ounce bottle of soda at Topside or in any vending machine around campus costs $1.25.

Maybe I'm getting too caught up in the details -- it is only 10 cents, after all -- but the principle of the matter is ridiculous on a number of levels. The first level is the straightforward economics of the matter. The second is how this pricing structure fits within the current dining plan options and the absurd cap on Topside spending. And the third is the ecological impact that this pricing structure promotes.

Here are some basic assumptions that highlight the errors of DDS's ways of soda-pricing. The basic mixture of the raw syrup and carbonated water in your soda is five parts carbonation to one part syrup. With this ratio, there are 3.2 ounces of syrup in every 16-ounce soda. Online, I found a company that sells five gallons of Coca-Cola syrup for $92.31. This is probably a very high price, as costs usually go down with quantity and this company was a second-hand supplier; most places get their syrup directly from a Coca-Cola distributor. Even so, this price means that each 16-ounce cup contains 46 cents of syrup. Add in minimal costs for carbon dioxide, water and ice and each 16-ounce cup costs maybe 60 cents. My price on the syrup is probably very high, especially considering that Dartmouth has a contract with Coke. Even so, we're looking at over a 100 percent mark-up. And we don't even get free refills! On top of that, you can get more ounces for a lower price in the same building!

Ah, but it all fits when you consider that DDS caps the amount of money from your dining plan you can spend at Topside. Let's pretend the average student eats three meals per day. Say that a student is an avid soda-drinker and has soda at two thirds of their meals (if you drink soda with breakfast, you're just gross), amounting to 140 sodas per term. If you bought all 140 sodas at Topside to save the $14, you would only have $25 left to spend at Topside. True, the specials come with a free 22-ounce soda, but why should I have to get the special every day? And why force a student to choose between saving money on soda and having money to spend on Topside when they could easily have both? It's ludicrous to make one of the few items found both in Topside and the rest of DDS less expensive at the one place where they cap the amount you can spend.

Additionally, Dartmouth likes to see itself as a sustainable place. How does a pricing structure that pushes people away from the reusable cup at Food Court to the more wasteful plastic bottle at Topside make sense? While the College is off pursuing high-profile campaigns in the McLaughlin Cluster to raise awareness and win prizes by drowning a polar bear, easy fixes to reduce waste are glossed over. The basement cooler lights in Food Court are left on day and night. Parking Operations drives around in a tow truck to hand out tickets and boots. (Is the tow truck necessary when a golf cart would suffice?) People are pushed to buy unsustainable products because they're cheaper even when it doesn't make sense that they are.

I'm not asking for much. Lower the price on the fountain soda all over campus. Or take away the Topside spending cap. Better yet, do both! Until then, may I suggest a boycott of the Food Court soda fountain? The water tastes good and Topside is right upstairs. I mean, who wants to pay $540 per barrel?