With retail dining on the rise at Binghamton University, students now have many options to choose from that are in proximity to their classes. The retailers seem to be expanding rapidly — Subway and Starbucks arrived last year in the Hinman Dining Hall and CopperTop Tavern and Dunkin’ Donuts made their debuts this semester. Although it’s exciting to see these new options, students must consider whether or not patronizing these locations is in their best interest financially.
All retail dining locations on campus are conveniently located in the Marketplace, the Tillman Lobby or in the Hinman Dining Hall — just a short walk from classes and the largest commuter parking lot on campus. Although it may be exciting to be able to get an iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts on your way to class, these locations seem to be taking advantage of students by overcharging for their products.
For example, a slice of pizza from a community dining hall costs less than $1 when using a residential student meal plan. However, a slice of specialty pizza from CopperTop Tavern is roughly $2.75. Additionally, a chicken finger basket from a community dining hall costs about $2.91, but a similar chicken finger basket from Tully’s University costs about $7.19.
Although some may argue that you pay for supposedly higher-quality food at retail dining locations, there is no objective proof to these claims, so it seems as though these retailers are mostly profiting from their convenient locations.
Students, especially commuters who usually stay near their classes at the center of campus all day, will choose to eat at retail dining locations over dining halls, which tend to be located further away from most classes. In fact, students who purchase a Commuter Plus meal plan only save on the 8 percent sales tax at retail locations and must pay 1.8 times the posted price in dining halls. Additionally, there is no membership fee and there is a 10 percent bonus added for every dollar deposited; the minimum amount to open the account is $25. BU Dining Services seems to be catering to commuter students who are more likely to patronize retail locations than the dining halls — there is a hefty membership fee of $250 for those who choose to purchase a Commuter Annual meal plan, which is designed for students who tend to eat in the dining halls more than at retail locations. It seems as though students who purchase Commuter Plus meal plans are rewarded with convenience, while those who purchase Commuter Annual plans are saddled with fees and long walks.
Retail dining locations not only profit from commuter students, but also from students who live on campus; many students who live on campus do not have cars to patronize these retailers at off-campus locations, so they turn to the ones on campus. For many, there is a certain allure to purchasing coffee that comes with a green straw or an open-faced bagel in a box as opposed to dining hall eats. In addition, sometimes the only way students can consume these products is on campus, and these retailers are aware of their influence.
While we acknowledge that the presence of these retail locations makes BU seem more attractive and many students enjoy their products, they seem to be taking advantage of students and profiting predominantly from their convenient locations, not from their better quality. Next time you want some chicken tenders or a caramel Frappuccino, consider what frequently patronizing these retailers might cost you in the long run.