Suites Dining Week 3: The Row

March 13, 2013, 2:40 p.m.

Suites residents and managers are now in their second week of negotiations with ResEd, and while nothing is final yet and there are many details left to be worked out, signs are positive that an agreeable solution can be reached that can both address the concerns of the University and protect Suites chefs and traditions.

As of this writing, there are no longer any outside contractors, including SOS, being considered to run Suites Dining; Suites staff are drafting a revised business model to present to the University that preserves the current chefs and student managerial independence while also establishing a Board of Directors to address University concerns about accountability and continuity; ResEd administrators Aaron Buzay and Nate Boswell have been very helpful in working with students; and negotiations are on a clear timetable for solution by the time the Draw rolls around. More updates to follow in the coming weeks.

As negotiations continue, however, it’s crucial to remember that this isn’t just about Suites. The Suites Dining case is merely one symptom of a much broader set of problems that has ramifications for this entire campus.

First and most narrowly, residents on the Row are not receiving a quality and volume of dining services commensurate with the board bill they pay. For the same board bill cost Suites residents pay for 17 meals per week – as I and others have noted multiple times – students on the Row get 10.

That is, first of all, a very basic equity issue. Absent a compelling reason why students on the Row should receive fewer meals for the same price, this is simply unfair.

This inefficiency is no fault of the chefs and kitchen staff on the Row, who (from personal conversations with both chefs and students) enjoy close relationships with Row residents and do the best they can with the resources (and most likely lower wages) they’ve been given. It is the fault of the larger financial model the University has put into place on the Row – a for-profit model, run by SOS, that appears unable to deliver the same volume of food service provided by a nonprofit, student-run Suites organization without high overhead or a profit margin to sustain.

It is the Suites financial model – a nonprofit model that allows each House (in consultation with ResEd and R&DE) direct ownership over its students’ money – that should be exported to the Row, not the other way around. Experience and data show that with competent management in place, a nonprofit model can deliver more food for the same price, as well as pay professional kitchen staff higher wages.

And from a purely moral, rather than economic, perspective, it seems wrong to force student money – much of which comes from University financial aid and parents’ contributions – to go toward paying a for-profit third-party company. Students should, of course, be free to spend their discretionary funds at dining companies like Subway and Panda Express. But requiring them to pay into an inefficient corporate-run dining model, with no ability to opt out, is both an ineffective and immoral decision.

As Suites continues to move forward in negotiations, let’s remember that the Row – and other areas of campus I’ll talk about in the coming weeks – are facing similar challenges and difficulties. We’re all in this together.

Contact Miles at [email protected].

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