At the open forum on Wednesday, James Van Voorst responded to our recent editorial on Sodexo’s pricing scheme on behalf of the University. His response left us hungry and wondering: What role should the University be playing in mediating disputes between students and Sodexo?
The University seems to have sided solidly with Sodexo. And it almost seems that Van Voorst didn’t even read the editorial before responding to the prepared question.
Van Voorst started by explaining that the $1,200 in operating fees that Sodexo charges are meant to keep the facility open. We acknowledged this in the original editorial. We will also acknowledge that Sodexo’s contract with the University requires them to keep dining facilities open even during periods when few customers eat and that this adds to the operating cost.
But our point about burritos and salmon still stands. If you were to go to Chipote, buy a burrito for $6.85 and bring it to the College-in-the-Woods Dining Hall and weigh it at the register (21.5 oz at $0.32 per oz), it would cost $6.88 on your meal plan or $12.38 in cash. That’s not the cost of the food.
Van Voorst continued that since Sodexo is so large, “If anyone’s going to get the best price on a chicken wing, it’s Sodexo.” This actually seems to back up our original point. If we can buy salmon at Wegmans for $6.99 per pound, we fail to understand how Sodexo charges $15.36 per pound.
We’re willing to swallow Sodexo’s fees in exchange for the convenience of the dining halls. We’re sure that the CIW dining hall doesn’t get many customers at 7 a.m. or 9:30 p.m., but it’s great to know that we can rely on it during those times.
What we’re not willing to swallow is the inflated ingredient costs. We understand the difference, but it seems that either Van Voorst doesn’t or is hoping that we don’t.
Van Voorst then continued to defend what seem to be inflated prices.
“We don’t jack the prices up because we have a captive audience, because to be honest, you all could go somewhere else,” he argued.
But the reality is that Sodexo does have a captive audience. Over 33 percent of undergraduate students are required to purchase a meal plan, whether they want to eat at a dining hall or not. Plus, even if they wanted to eat off campus, freshmen are not allowed to have cars, making the prospect difficult.
We realize that Sodexo doesn’t have much incentive to act. We, the students, aren’t their customers. The University is. Plus, there wasn’t a single other bidder in 2005 when the Sodexo contract was last renewed.
But we’re the University’s customers. We think that we did a pretty good job at laying out our case. If you want us to show our math, we’ll be more than happy to.
We asked Sodexo to be more transparent in their pricing. Now we have a request for the University:
Can you please have an open and honest conversation with us? We’re willing to listen. We’re willing to publish your response. All we ask is that you take our concerns seriously.