A Pound of Flesh

When a Sodexo cashier rings up your meal, are you reading between the bar code lines? On-campus students pay $1,314 every semester simply to have dining halls. According to Sodexo’s website, that money goes toward “expenses to keep our facilities open,” including utilities, labor and supplies. On top of that, students must also add a minimum of $449 of “spending money” to their meal plans.

Miriam Geiger/Editorial Artist

When most restaurants calculate the amount they charge for something on their menu, they take into account the amount it costs them to keep their doors open. Since Sodexo already charges students for those non-food expenses, the amount they charge for food should correlate with ingredient costs, right?

In some cases it adds up — a slice of pizza is under 50 cents. Other times, it seems like Sodexo is just stealing our money.

Take salmon. At Wegmans, the price of salmon is $6.99 per pound. But at the dining hall? Over $15 per pound. A large beef burrito at Chipotle costs $6.85. At the College-in-the-Woods Dining Hall? Actually, about the same.

Chipotle manages to pay their rent, utilities, labor and supply costs — plus the cost of the ingredients — with that $6.85 and still turn a profit, yet Sodexo says they charge that solely for the ingredients. Something doesn’t sound right.

So what’s the real cost to students for that Sodexo burrito? Around $15 — we did the math — assuming that students maximize their meal plan by actually spending every cent, every semester and only to buy “resident priced” items. (Nite Owl items cost more because the operations fee doesn’t support them.)

It gets worse. Students who don’t spend all of their money can buy a smaller meal plan, but they still pay the same $1,314 for operating expenses. That $15 burrito on the smallest meal plan costs over $23. For $23, that burrito better be made out of gold.

The burrito actually costs less for people without meal plans, including non-students (we did the math again). For those people, Sodexo tacks on an extra 80 percent to the posted price, making a burrito cost about $12. Compare that to the extra 149 percent they get from students on the average meal plan, and the whopping 290 percent extra that students on the smallest meal plan are paying, when you consider the operating expense and ingredient costs.

According to Sodexo, the price they charge for food is determined by the total cost of the ingredients — including portions that they are unable to sell. For example, if a portion of pasta costs $1, and Sodexo discovers that for every 10 portions of pasta they sell, they throw away one portion, the new cost to Sodexo — the price they pass along to students — is now closer to $1.10.

This is something that most eateries factor into their prices. But for Sodexo, it’s different. Sodexo has a captive audience, and Sodexo already has their profit before a single customer steps foot into one of their facilities, mainly from the operating fees you give them. They don’t care if it costs them $1 to produce a portion of pasta or $5. No matter what, students have to pay it. If a normal restaurant discovered that they had to charge unusually high prices to remain in business, they would closely reexamine all of their costs or cheaper eateries would drive them out of business. Sodexo has no such incentive. They don’t have to reduce waste or increase efficiency to turn a profit. They just pass their costs onto students.

Sodexo has two options. They can eliminate the “operating expenses” and charge for food the same way every other eatery does, or they should be more transparent in calculating food costs. Either way, it is unlikely that they would be able to get away with charging $15 for a burrito.