The Problems of Dartmouth Dining Services

Overpriced and poor quality food, zero flexibility with Declining Balance Account (DBA), debilitatingly long lines, mishandling of dietary restrictions, a monopoly on student eating to go along with massive profits, and now, no more napkins at tables; the bevy of complaints against Dartmouth Dining Services (DDS) continues to grow. Dartmouth students come from all over the world and hold many different beliefs, but most generally concur that DDS is a poor service, only concerned about profits, as opposed to student health or well-being.

The U.S. government has passed many laws to prevent the formation of monopolies and to increase competition within many industries in the economy. However, Dartmouth and its dining services have a de facto monopoly on student eating, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Every single Dartmouth student is required to be on a meal plan, something very few schools mandate. Even students living off-campus, for whom it makes much more sense to purchase and cook food from grocery stores, are still required to purchase a meal plan at the price of $970 to accommodate the rule. DDS also locks incoming freshman into either of the most expensive meal plans for their first term, leaving them with very little DBA to use, and thus very little flexibility with eating. Though the oft-cited explanation is to facilitate social interaction amongst incoming students, mandatory meal plans essentially amount to nothing more than the College trying to turn a profit on the backs of students; it is even more telling given the poor handling of its own investments and finances.

Not only does DDS require students to be on a meal plan, it also charges high prices for all the food. A single egg at Collis costs students over a dollar. A sixteen-ounce smoothie, with a little fruit, a ton of ice, and some juice costs students four dollars. For a spoon of energy or protein powder, tack on an extra dollar. Collis sushi is marked up three dollars on the exact same product at Novack Café or the Courtyard Café. The Class of ’53 Commons, called FoCo by students, is the main dining hall on campus, and typically costs a swipe to enter. Pricing for non-swipes, however, is exorbitant; whereas swipe dollar-values are $5.25, $7.75, and $10 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, respectively, FoCo cash entry options are $7.75, $10.50, and $14.75. Typically consisting of poorly-cooked meat, cold pasta, and tasteless salad, FoCo food is truly inconsistent and decent at its best. At the Courtyard Café, commonly called the Hop, food pricing easily exceeds that of a standard meal swipe value. The pasta is consistently undercooked and sits out for hours on the buffet. Moreover, some small bottles of juice cost over five dollars. Overcharging coupled with required plans certainly qualifies as a manipulative practice.    

During freshman fall, students get less than $200 of DBA. Most students then choose to move off that meal plan in subsequent terms and onto one with more DBA, to give them more freedom in their food choices. However, many students consistently are forced into negative balances due to the overpricing of a la carte options, resulting in a bigger tuition bill later. King Arthur Flour (KAF), a popular place for coffee and treats on campus, boasts the highest quality food and drinks on campus, but is extremely expensive. Conveniently, DDS does not allow swipes to be used at KAF, so students must pay with DBA; given the widespread incidence of coffee addiction on campus, the price of a daily drink in addition to food takes a toll on available DBA. Many colleges with required meal plans have deals with their towns or cities that allow students to use dining plan money at off-campus locations. This is not the case with DDS; if you eat off campus, you pay directly from your own bank account. 

Another student complaint tends to be the long lines at Collis, the Hop, and KAF. Collis is a tremendously cramped space, where it is difficult to even turn around during peak hours. Waiting in line for pasta or stir-fry can take upwards of 30 minutes. Smoothies are some of the best Collis has to offer, and a very popular option; however, there is only one blender at the station. At such a high profit margin, it would make sense to invest in a second blender, so students will not be deterred by a long line. Peak time at the Hop is equally as frustrating; waiting in the line can take upwards of a half an hour, not including the five minutes for your order to be made, and another five to pay, as often only one of the two registers is open. KAF lines almost always overflow into the library lobby; even though there are two windows, they use only one for the majority of the time. DDS could expand spaces to create shorter lines and therefore more student purchases, but instead understaffing and high prices are the general policy.

In addition to constantly shortcharging students, DDS consistently shows a disregard for student demands and needs. Last year, students were concerned that the food provided by FoCo was not properly kosher; the situation was grossly mishandled. Ultimately, the failure to cater to a diverse student body with a variety of dietary restrictions runs antithetical to the College’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in student life. For an unclear reason, DDS took away the allergy signs on food at the beginning of the 2017 winter term. After confusion from many students, the signs were replaced after a week. Perhaps the biggest issue this year is the decision to take away napkins from all individual tables in every dining hall, instead only offering a limited number of dispensers in a set location in each hall. Though cited as “an effort to reduce waste rather than incur inconvenience,” students seem to be less than enthused by the decision.

Novack Cafe, a popular Dartmouth Dining Services location.

Novack Cafe, a popular Dartmouth Dining Services location.

Due to massive profit share, over-priced and low quality food, and long lines, DDS always seems to makes its way into the forefront of student complaints. A million-dollar profit margin coming off unethical monopolization of student dining results in a continued poor reputation for the oft-criticized service. Perhaps the College may one day heed the complaints of countless students and implement the reforms often demanded, yet consistently ignored.               

  • fribble

    Dartmouth sees itself as a jobs program.
    “Good jobs at good wages” as the old Democratic Party used to say.
    And the old Democratic Party used to say that about American citizens, not illegals and refugees and anyone else they can find to bring in and put on the taxpayer tab.
    The entire Dartmouth bureaucracy is devoted to their own jobs, more of them, more pay and benefits, a bigger endowment and snatching as much money as they can out of an alumni group that is either ill-informed or willfully blind to what has gone on there for 50 years or more.

    The school runs for the school bureaucracies and to hell with the students, the alums and the parents. They need to write up a new alma mater to make it realistic.