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Dec. 8, 2014

Dining Services responds to student concerns

By Ashli SpeedDining forum

Walking through the Student Center amid the smell of French Fries frying and burgers being flipped, Darren Jones opted to eat Subway for lunch — an off-campus choice.

Jones, a junior Exercise Science major, found it worth his while to brave the cold, downtown wind and walk across Euclid Avenue for what he said is a better value.

Jones, a commuter student, chooses to eat off-campus options every day.

“I always bring food from home or go to Subway,” Jones said. “The food at CSU needs to be cheaper and have more of a variety of choices.”

Food prices at Cleveland State University are a common concern for many students, both residential and commuter.

Tyler Wilson, a sophomore Political Science major and director of collaboration and community outreach for the Student Government Association (SGA), said that changes in food prices is a popular suggestion.

“The majority of what we see in our suggestion box has to do with food prices,” Wilson said.

According to dining services, SGA senators have met with dining services on numerous occasions. They have shared the concerns of students and opened the channels of communication with dining.

SGA hosted an open forum on campus dining Thursday, Dec. 4 in the Student Center. The forum addressed student concerns from variety to price.

One place students think is overpriced is Outtakes — a convenience store located on the second floor of the Student Center.

Outtakes allows students to grab a quick bite between classes. It features snack wraps, salads and soups made by dining services.

“I don’t mind the cafeteria, I’ll pay the $6 and sit there,” Semir Medencevic, senior Engineering major, said. “The more expensive stuff comes from Outtakes. That stuff adds up.”

Many students think that they could get a better deal on the same items Outtakes sells if they went elsewhere.

A common item, Propel, is priced at $2.79 for a 20 oz. bottle while at 1900 Food and Beverage on 19th Street and Euclid Avenue, the same size bottle is currently priced at 2 for $3.

“Often we hear students comparing our prices to Walmart, that’s not a fair comparison,” Christopher Hall, marketing director of Cleveland State University dining, said. “You have to compare our prices to the right competition. We are not wholesale such as Walmart or Giant Eagle, who have enormous buying power.”

With 13 places across campus for students to grab a bite to eat, some students are making the choice to eat elsewhere in an attempt to get more for less.

Dining Serivices rolled out “Dare 2 Compare” last spring, in an effort to address student concerns on price.

After traveling to other stores and restaurants and making fair comparisons, dining services developed “Dare 2 Compare” boards to show students what they would pay for the same amount of food at a different location.

The “Dare 2 Compare” chart at Grill Nation — located in the Student Center, — compares three Grill Nation combos to Burgers 2 Beer (B2B), Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Rascal House Pizza — locations that students often travel to in search of a “better deal.”
Grill Nation came out cheaper among the four for all three combos. An 8 oz. bacon cheeseburger with fries costs $10.38 at Five Guys, $14.99 at B2B and only $7.78 at Grill Nation.

“[For] A lot of people, this is the first time they’ve left home,” Hall said. “How often are these students subject to eating at above causal places? We don’t have a McDonald’s, we have a Grill Nation. Most of our products are a step higher. Students deserve a more premium product, and it costs more.”

In Bar Uno — located on the first floor of the Student Center — a large poster right by the door compares Bar Uno to Harry Buffalo, the Winking Lizard and Panini’s — places with similar business models and menus.

According to Director of Dining Jim Razzante, Cleveland State ranked above in price in some areas and fell below in others.

“Dare 2 Compare at least shows we’re not far off from other places, it simplifies it for students,” Razzante said. “We know that it’s a concern for students. We don’t randomly pick prices. We see the competition, look at costs — we go through a process for pricing every year.”

Cleveland State offers seven different meal plans for both residential and commuter students with options to reload if you run out..

Much like the locations on campus, the meal plans have been compared to other universities with similar models.

“For the meal plans we researched 7-10 northeast Ohio campuses,” Hall said. “Some of those were Youngstown State University, Wright State [University] and Bowling Green State University. You have to compare apples to apples.”
Meal plans consist of swipes, which are used to dine in the market place and dinning dollars which can be used at all 13
“I know that in the past a lot of students think dining gets some types of fees or funds from student tuition, we operate just like any restaurant on the street so we have to manage all our funds at all the dining locations,” said Hall.

Meal plan pricing goes through Cleveland State’s board of trustees for approval, their budget does not come from tuition revenue.

Residential students, Madeline Williams, Hope Webster and Kelly Miller, chatted while they ate lunch in the student center. All eating campus options purchased with their meal plans.

Williams, a junior transfer student from Lakeland Community College now lives on Cleveland State’s campus and is ok with the prices of food.

“CSU’s food is way better than Lakeland as far as price, at Lakeland chicken fingers and fries cost like $9.00, I think its (CSU) reasonably priced for commuters,” said Williams.

“I have 75 swipes a semester and $700 dining dollars the largest plan. I find myself not wanting to eat in the dining hall a lot, I like to eat healthier, I don’t feel like they have a lot of options,” said Miller freshman speech pathology major.

All felt the prices were very reasonable, but wished there were more options, variety has been another topic of concern for students.

“We in the past had trouble providing for vegetarian students, a lot to do with identifying what they wanted. “

Through the comment boards in the dining hall dinning services was able to add more vegetarian and vegan options to the dining hall menu. They added soy milk and stir fry. Bar Uno has a separate gluten free menu.

“Through their silence we must assume their happy because we’re not hearing anger from them,” said Hall.

“I don’t know if students can fully understand the process, cost of goods labor to produce food. With locations like Uno’s and Papa John’s we pay royalties, there is a lot involved with it all,” said Razzante.
As far as options and value dinning is working to improve. Outtakes now offers a soup and sandwich combo priced at $4.99. The Strip in the Main Classroom also gives students the option to add a side and a drink to their meal.

“We need to do a little more of that (offering combo),” said Razzate. “We just completed fall surveys and we’re getting same results, students want to see more value, we can build off of that and have more bundle meals available.”