Seven dollars and 50 cents can get hungry customers seven tacos from Del Taco, 20 pieces of the famous chicken McNuggets from McDonalds with a drink and French fries or full access to APU’s Dining Hall where any college student can eat as much as they want.
APU offers undergraduate students six meal plan options. They are block meal plans where a student pays for a certain number of meals upfront. Plans range from 45 block meals for $461 to 250 block meals for $1,878 Each meal plan also includes additional guest meals and dining dollars.
When an APU student feels hungry, they have the option to dine at 11 different on-campus venues. Each accepts cash, credit and your student ID card that charges one meal at the retail price of $7.50.
The $7.50 gets split up in several pieces to pay for food costs, payroll, rent, etc. Many students often complain that the food is overpriced on campus.
“I feel like we don’t get enough for the money we pay, but some meals are fair. Like at the Dining Hall you get as much food as you want, which is why I don’t think it’s expensive,” sophomore psychology major Joceyn Reyes said. “I think a lot of students think the meals are expensive because it’s what everyone else is saying, so they just tend to agree with the crowd.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American person spends $4,352 on food annually. That would add up to $2,901 for eight months, which is a typical academic year. The 180-block meal plan at APU for an academic year ends up at $3,128.
To determine if meal plans are overpriced, consider how the system works. The cost of one meal depends on the type of meal plan a student chooses. The higher the meal plan, the cheaper the cost per meal is.
It is important to note that the $7.50 that rings up at the register is not necessarily what a student pays. Rather, it is the retail price of the meal. Not everything is exactly seven dollars and 50 cents. Some are below the price mark by a few cents, but none cost more than that.
Students have the option to use their meal plans at either the 1899 Dining Hall, which is the all-you-can-eat facility or pick from one of the 11 “retail areas” such as Mexicali or the Den.
Many of the meals consist of an entrée, such as a burger or sandwich, a choice of two sides (fruit, fries, chips) and a drink. The exception to this is the Dining Hall, where it is a buffet style. If a student eats three meals at any venue except the Dining Hall, they consume 12 items costing them $22.50 a day.
Compare those numbers to the following: Supper for a family of four at McDonald’s runs around $23 or a full roasted chicken dinner, with veggies, salad and milk costs about $14. Home cooked meals feature cheaper staples like pasta, rice or beans that are more cost efficient. Plus, Mom is not looking for a profit for her good home cooking.
Obviously, cooking at home is much cheaper than eating out or getting a meal plan. However, the reality is that college students may not have a kitchen, they do not have the time to invest in a home cooked meal, or they just do not know how to cook.
So are APU students being ripped off?
Mark Chow, a communication studies senior major at Citrus College and a Canyon Grill supervisor understands both the restraints a student and Hospitality Services experience.
“Being a college student myself, paying $7.50 everyday for a meal becomes pricy,” Chow said. “At Citrus College, there is no meal plan and lunches run from $9-10.”
Chow has been working at Canyon Grill for five years and is no stranger to the hospitality business. Before working at APU, Chow also worked as a line cook in other restaurant establishments. Chow’s experience has made him familiar with the financial aspect of food establishments.
“We get a lot of complaints about the cost of the food because a lot of students are unaware of how things really work,” Chow said.
So how does it work? When buying a meal you buy more than just the food.
A customer also pays for the labor, rent, licenses, fees, maintenance expenses and other miscellaneous costs. The main expenses any food establishment faces are wages and food costs. Each should take up no more than 30 percent of sales.
The labor at Hospitality Services consists of student workers and salary-paid employees.
There are approximately 500 student employees working this year for Hospitality Services. All are paid at least the current federal minimum wage. California’s current minimum wage is $8 an hour. This amount is higher than the federal’s amount of $7.25 an hour.
If a student looks over their financial aid letter for the year, some are rewarded with the Federal Work Study Program. The program provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses.
“A student is qualified for the work study program based on their EFC reported in their FAFSA,” APU account counselor Barbara Esquivel said. “The number that is given in a students financial aid letter is the max amount that the government will fund a student’s wages.”
The dollar number a student receives is the maximum amount they can earn during a school year. Once the amount is reached, a student may have to leave the job. Hours are adjusted and cut in order to stay within budget.
APU encourages Hospitality Services to hire student workers to enable students to gain work experience and the chance to make money.
Although the profit made in a meal does not cover a student’s wages, it does cover full-time employees’ wages. Payroll also includes health funds, worker’s compensation, insurance, holiday pay, long service leave and pension.
Food costs depend on the type of food is being served at a restaurant. Food costs at a fine dining steakhouse will cost more than an Italian restaurant mainly serving pasta.
Heritage Court senior manager Cliff Grassman expressed the difficulty of financially surviving. Although exact dollar amounts are not allowed to be disclosed, the following information can give a feel of what Grassman has to work with.
Managers predict their budgets called forecasting based on previous numbers and growth. There is normally a 10 percent growth every year, but Canyon Grill has been down in business by 28 percent.
“We’ve lost over 400 customers. New venues and student’s schedules are factors on the big lost,” Grassman said.
The astounding number of lost customers has made it difficult for managers to keep food costs at the suggested 30 percent. As of lately, the food cost at Canyon Grill has gone up to 55 percent.
Other factors that could contribute to the high food costs are untrained employees. Employees may not pay attention to portion control or make a mistake on an order and throw it out entirely. Another is the lack of consistent inventory.
Students need to acknowledge that they pay for a person to take your order, the person who cooks it, the person who calls their order number and all the people that clean up. In simpler terms, students pay for convenience. Cooking at home may be cheaper, but many despise it because of the labor involved.
Salaried labor is also paid for, which pays the person who orders all the ingredients needed to make a burger, the person who schedules and supervises students and keeps tracks of all the numbers.
If food costs are 55 percent and labor is at 30 percent, that is already 85 percent being taken out of sales from only two expenses.
In a traditional restaurant setting, a 10 percent return in profit is considered decent. This number is based on revenue minus expenses.
The restaurant business is one of the most competitive and grueling industries. According to Cornell University and the National Restaurant Association, 60 percent of restaurants fail within the first three years of operation.
Fortunately, most of the venues at APU do earn a decent profit. According to business manager of Hospitality Services Jonathan Teague, the profit that each venue brings in goes back to the university. The university determines how to use those profits.
“If we want to paint the walls or get new equipment, we have to send in a request and they approve the request or not,” Teague said.
To help keep food and labor costs down, business has to be up. In order to do that, venues need to attract customers. So is there a secret war between venues to make the most profit?
“We are all a part of Hospitality Services. There may be some friendly competition between managers,” Teague said.
Although each venue is treated independently in the case that each place has their own staff and regulations, they all work for Hospitality Services. Some venues may make more profit than others, but Hospitality Services looks at everything from a bigger perspective to make sure budgets, spending and profits are aligned.
If $7.50 for an on-campus meal is still considered expensive there are two alternatives: cook at home or eat off campus.