By Josh May, Associate Editor
It’s well-known that competition in a free market makes the world go round (or at least it’s well-known if you read the Review). When a particular market enjoys a healthy level of capitalism, prices are kept low, while wages and quality are kept high. But this truth that most of us seem to hold to be self-evident, is lost on the University Dining Service.
Sodexo has a long record of incompetence and failure that seems only to have intensified over the last few years. The most ubiquitous complaint this year for returning students has been the removal of the napkin dispensers at every table in the dining halls. Ostensibly, this was a result of “theft” (and this despite the sizeable markup in meal plan prices to include a surcharge for predicted theft), but it has left students frustrated—and left me trying to maneuver around the morons who spend an inordinate amount of time at the napkin/silverware tables and slow everyone else down.
But the napkins are the least of the unexplained incidents. Some longer-standing policies are equally baffling. Why do most of the dining halls open at 8 AM on weekdays (a reasonable hour) and not until 11 on weekends? On my first Saturday morning as a freshman, hoping to get up early and start exploring my new home, I was bitterly disappointed to see the dining halls closed for several hours more. For those like me to whom breakfast is the most important meal of the day, this kind of deprivation puts a definite pall on the day. During the weekends that followed, I was forced to either start my day much later and thus lose productivity, or buy food elsewhere and lose my even more limited personal spending money. Of all Sodexo’s problems, this seems to me the most fixable; extending operating hours by six hours a week will not break the bank—and if corporate is worried about reduced volume, understandable given the tendency of campus to clear out over weekends, then I urge it to try this policy for a trial period in at least one dining hall.
Breakfast is the one meal I truly enjoy at Hinman Dining Center, and I sincerely compliment the staff on the food; it’s a shame that this doesn’t pervade the overall corporate ethos. It seems as though “quality” stamps out at 11 AM (on weekdays, that is; it apparently takes weekends off). The amount of decent food recedes faster than Harvey Stenger’s hairline. The relative proportion of good to bad food produced from lunchtime on smacks of a Stalinesque quota system, as if the state had mandated a certain amount of charred hockey pucks and Italian cardboard, euphemistically disguised as “hamburgers” and “pizza,” respectively. And let’s not forget the other common complaint—that healthy food is priced higher than junk food.
All these problems and more can be easily solved by the introduction of competition into the campus food market. At the moment, the only non-Sodexo choice available on campus is the over-crowded Einstein Brothers Bagels, hardly a diverse market. The very building itself displays all the engineering and architectural genius of a Harpur student, with its claustrophobic checkout lines and a sitting area with a square footage less than Joe Biden’s IQ. Clearly, a better alternative is needed.
It is my sincere hope that the upcoming Marketplace (a successor to the long-closed Food Court) in the new Union will remedy this problem. The University appears to be making a serious effort to address dining concerns, as the new Marketplace will hold several independent eateries and a substantial sitting area. Sodexo’s lost business will likely prompt some serious corporate soul-searching, but whether or not they make targeted improvements, the consumer is better served. The best part? Once you finish your free-market food and realize that the capitalists were right after all, you can take a quick walk down the stairs to the Binghamton Review office and thank us yourselves.