David Chardack
David Chardack

While Leo’s will never have trouble retaining the freshmen and sophomores who often purchase larger, more expensive meal plans as part of their mandated procurement, the dining hall’s elimination this year of the 45-block meal plan robs juniors and seniors of flexibility in dining options. They claimed to hear us in their advertising campaigns, but in this case, they weren’t listening.

In the past, upperclassmen, many of whom have their own kitchens available to prepare meals, were able to purchase the small meal plan that cost more per swipe but allowed for stops at O’Donovan Hall between classes or Grab ‘n’ Go for particularly busy days. Trading value for flexibility was a compromise that served the Hilltop well.

While Aramark, the private company that operates Leo’s and Georgetown’s auxiliary food services, must make some of its decisions to help its bottom line, its decision to eliminate its smallest meal plan unduly prohibits those seeking dining flexibility and affordability from finding a plan that works for them.

If the decision were indeed about business, it does not seem to be a very smart one on the part of Aramark. Alienating those upperclassmen threatens to eliminate a part of Leo’s customer base that was reluctant to purchase meal plans in the first place.

Aramark may believe that eliminating smaller plans forces students to rely more heavily on its services, but under this year’s existing options, students must choose between paying for hundreds of dollars’ worth of wasted meals or forgoing Leo’s altogether. For many, that’s an easy choice.

To win back customers only willing to purchase Leo’s smallest block plan, Aramark must better account for the realities of student life and campus dining.

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13 Comments

  1. Leo’s is a mess; it has been for a long time. Since a meal plan is mandatory and everyone pays the same amount per entry, those who eat little subsidize those who eat a lot. Since there is no cap on consumption per entry, there is ex ante moral hazard–everyone has an incentive to over-consume. All things things make Leo’s more expensive. Further, a few years back, Leo’s workers unionized for higher wages (and DC also recently raised the minimum wage). The unionization of Leo’s workers is diametrically opposed to students’ financial interests. Leo’s unionizations manifests itself in higher labor costs that are then passed along to the consumer–ie Georgetown students–in one form or another. To compensate for the rise in labor costs, Aramark can charge higher prices per meal or it can eliminate low-number plans and thereby ensuring everyone spends more money. With this change, underclassman will no longer have the 45 option as well, no? I’m sure Aramark calculated that the rise in spending by underclassmen will offset and “drop-outs” by upperclassmen; if not they would not have made this change. It is a mistake see this as a problem with Aramark, which is behaving rationally and normally, and not instead as a problem with the Leo’s labor union and the structure of the entire meal plan system.

    • Two addenda: It is ex-post moral hazard, not ex-ante. My mistake. Secondly, the most egregious part about the Leo’s unionization efforts was that there was a vocal minority of Georgetown students who actively supported and aided the workers’ campaign. They were concerned for Leo’s workers apparently, but not for their fellow students who bore the cost. The effect unionization was that students, both rich and poor, were to ultimately pay more for Leo’s and with no real choice in the matter since half the student population is required to purchase Leo’s.

      • Georgetown’s students are, by in large, well off. The workers at Leo’s are not. The meal plans for low-income students are subsidized. The livelihood of the workers at Leo’s are not. They’re payed bullshit while Aramark nets almost $150 million a year. If you want to talk about the high cost of food at Leo’s, consider the greedy company that supplies the food rather than attacking the most vulnerable.

        • So? Leo’s workers are paid “bullshit” because their labor is worth very little. It requires no serious skill or thinking. Aramark makes profit because they do their job well; they create a lot of value for their customers, who voluntarily compensate them for their work in a market of many similar firms. Leo’s workers, conversely, are very low-skilled and in high supply; their labor can be easily substituted by anyone who has basic physical mobility. It is not as if Aramark is the only employer is DC. No one but Aramark (and by transition Georgetown students) is offering to pay them more given their very low skill-set and small marginal value generation. Those least responsible for their lowly status are those people already employing them. If it is anyone’s responsibility to ensure some X standard of living, should it not be “society’s”, not college students? The federal government has a fairly generous social safety net. If there is some “social responsibility”, why place the burden on Georgetown students?

          • Nice try regurgitating ECON 101 terms, as the anti-union crowd is so fond of doing. But your almighty market is not the issue here. Aramark enjoys a lack of competition and a captive customer base that is required to buy a meal plan. Both of these factors are artificial boosts to Aramark’s profit which they would happily use to line their own pockets if not for the union at Leo’s.
            “Those least responsible for their lowly status are those people already employing them” is ridiculous. Who could possibly be more responsible for the workers’ job conditions than the $13 billion corporation that employs them?
            The idea that the responsibility should be society’s and not the students is a false dichotomy: there are lost of places to put the burden besides “society” (whatever that means-are students not part of society?) or students. Georgetown’s bloated administrative costs come to mind, something tells me Aramark’s C-level executives could probably survive a pay cut, etc.
            It’s interesting that in a situation where Aramark is screwing over both the students and the workers, you decide the workers are the bad guys. I guess you would prefer that the workers keep their heads down and accept bad conditions for your benefit. Unfortunately, the workers have other things in mind. Aramark wants you to believe that your interests are opposed to the workers’ and that Aramark is on your side. Nothing could be further from the truth.

          • Unbelievable. Reducing this to “Georgetown workers unionized so Aramark had no choice but to raise meal plan prices for students” is the most asinine argument I’ve ever heard. Do you really think that the students who supported the Living Wage Campaign didn’t do their research over years of organizing and negotiating with the university? Or were the liberal, rabble-rousers too enamored with the idea of protesting to take the well-being of fellow students into account? It’s ridiculous to claim that this is an either-or scenario with workers benefiting only at the expense of students. Aramark is MORE than capable of paying its employees a living wage without transferring the cost to consumers, which was one of the main concerns addressed during unionization and the creation of Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy. Aramark doing its job “well” is laughable, unless you’re referring to their ability to consistently flout workers’ rights in which case they’re doing a fantastic job. Making $13 billion in revenue by hiking up costs and gutting hours and benefits for workers, however “rational” you might find it to be, is hardly something that calls for praise. Also, economic arguments aside, it’s really disgraceful that you have such contempt for our own campus workers. Let me assure you that unionization was not an empty campaign done for protest’s sake. I’m sure it’s easy for you to dismiss the litany of workers’ rights abuses that went on at Leo’s and the fact that these are people who deserve respect in the workplace. I mean, who cares about easily replaceable workers of “lowly status,” right? How dare the people who make our food ask for a living wage and a way to safeguard their rights. As a student at a university that prides itself on its commitment to Jesuit values and social justice, I would argue that we do, in fact, have a “social responsibility” to our workers. To say that our support of workers is to blame for a shift in meal plan policy is, quite frankly, a pretty lazy argument and I don’t buy it.

          • @Ned: that is not Econ 101. You’re reasoning is flawed. You don’t seem bright.

            @irenek94 my mistake for going on a tangent that made it seem as if unionization was the only problem plaguing Leo’s. The entire structure of the meal plan system is mess, which Leo’s unionization exacerbates. There is a conflict with the Jesuit values of “social justice”, I will concede that. But also in general, yes: “the liberal, rabble-rousers too enamored with the idea of protesting to take the well-being of fellow students into account”.

          • As for “social responsibility”: *if one believes “we” have a responsibility to the poor, why are those people employing the poor and thereby improving their condition–as opposed to everyone else not employing them and who failed them in life prior–obligated to bear extra responsibility for their well-being? Federal social safety net policies, which are fairly generous, are a much more efficient way to achieve the same social justice ends without the inefficiency (fact) of unionization.

          • I would like to re-emphasize, however, that the main cost drivers of Leo’s meal plans are:

            the “meal plan is mandatory and everyone pays the same amount per entry, those who eat little subsidize those who eat a lot. Since there is no cap on consumption per entry, there is ex post moral hazard–everyone has an incentive to over-consume. All things things make Leo’s more expensive.”

  2. Also the food still sucks

  3. In reference to the conversation above–I know it may be difficult for young and bleeding hearts to accept, but just because some executives “could” (or should) take a pay cut does not mean they *will. That is the crucial difference They have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maintain or increase company profits. They are looking to maximize their own pay just like Leo’s workers are seeking to maximize their own pay. They are both motivated by the same self-interest. One just happens to be more powerful and one less powerful.

  4. The price of a meal swipe at Leo’s is now over $13 on the lowest tier plan, for that price I could go to almost any decent lunch spot on M Street and get a higher quality meal made to order, frequently with a waiter who will take time to treat me like a customer rather than plop of a tray of ‘vegan ground beef’ on the table and hand me a hygienically suspect scoop. If Leo’s is not able to make a profit in spite of the fact that they have thousands of customers pay thousands of dollars months in advance, this is a sign of serious mismanagement on the part of Aramark. Real restaurants charge comparable prices and don’t have customers promising to eat there predictably 3 times a day 7 days a week for months on end and paying for all of those meals in advance. Real restaurants have to attract customers, not administrators, and as a result the quality of their food is better and the prices lower and yet real restaurants manage to stay in business even without the massive advantages Aramark has in the competitive food industry at Georgetown. The sooner

    If Aramark is leveraging their monopoly and the fact that they can require Freshmen and Sophomores to purchase meal plans against their will in order to simply gouge a profit from poor students this is morally unacceptable and I am ideologically opposed to supporting these practices. I’m stuck paying for the slop they serve because my Georgetown education is worth the added cost of terrible food and they know that many other people will be making the same calculations.

    Regardless, I think that most of the people commenting above are getting distracted by minor issues like a sense of obligation to subsidize the meals of less well-off students. Speaking as a customer who is burning as much as $50-100 per week on unused meals that I was required to purchase I feel like if I were to keep that money and donate it to a respectable charity or scholarship fund it would much more effectively help the less fortunate among us than if I were to hand it over to Aramark to line the pockets of a few managers and the Sysco board. I’d also be able to help out the workers at our local Chipotle/Subway/Tombs/Wherever who are equally if not more economically pressed to hold up a minimum wage in DC and whom I can tip directly rather than hand a check over to Aramark and hope the employees are paid fairly.

    I think that the only solution is for the university to stop requiring meal plans for any person and for Aramark and Leo’s to scale down or adjust their operations to provide economically competitive dining services that match value for value just like every other food service option in the District.

  5. A lot has been articulated in the above comments. Let me say this–Hoyas have been complaining about the quality and cost of Leo’s for at least a decade. Leo’s/Aramark has a guaranteed customer base (freshman, sophomores) who must pay for a minimum number of meals, which they may or may not actually consume. On top of that, the all-you-can-eat structure of the dining experience certainly encourages over-consumption and waste, thereby increasing the average price of meals.

    Since students are required to purchase a minimum number of meals, Leo’s does not have to compete for customers. Case and point–it can just increase prices or mandate higher minimum plans, and most students have little choice but to pay the extra cost. Leo’s/Aramark enjoys an unfair and inefficient monopoly over the dinning activities of more than half the student body. Students would be much better off if Leo’s had to compete on a level playing field (e.g. *optional plans at various quantities) with all the other dinning options on and around campus. Without competition, the incentive to provide higher quality and more affordable meals is depressed.

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