September 5, 2013
The Howard Diner, a staple of any Hamilton student’s diet, underwent some unexpected changes this year. On the one hand, several new items appeared on the menu: the House-Made Pastrami Burger, the Green Chile Tortilla Burger, the Whole Diner Burger, the House-Made Chicken Cutlet, and the HD Shakes. (For reviews of these new items, see page 8.) On the other hand, these new options are not included as part of the College’s Meal Plan, thus costing each student out-of-pocket dollars. Moreover, some Diner classics—such as the Black Russian and Tuscan Chicken sandwiches—are only available in exchange for a meal swipe one day per week, as “Perfect Fit” options. While a student can use his swipe for a Black Russian on a [day of the week], the sandwich would cost him $7 any other day of the week a la carte.
Unsurprisingly, the idea of paying for food at the Diner has sparked outrage among members of the student body, with numerous Diner regulars taking their protests to social media. The main charges against the higher prices are that they break from the all-inclusive nature of Diner items in years past and that the $2,655 students pay for a 21-meal plan—an expense that has increased annually—should truly pay for all meals. After all, what has changed since last year that makes a Black Russian worth more money? And why introduce tempting new dishes at the Diner if the Meal Plan doesn’t even cover them?
While disgruntlement with these changes is understandable, one must keep in mind some key facts about the Howard Diner before writing their adjustments off as an injustice. The Diner, unlike any other Hamilton facility or office, has a staff that works until midnight every day of the week—and even later on the three nights of the week that Diner B is offered. Not only are the staff’s hours unusually long, but their labor is intense. Traditionally, Diner meals have all been made-to-order, with the cooks taking account of specific requests from students. As basic economics teaches us, there is a higher cost to creating meals at the Diner—particularly the five new options—and, in turn, a higher price for the customer. It’s doubtful that Hamilton would charge students extra at the Diner just for the sake of charging extra.
Another important consideration is the fact that Bon Appétit—not Hamilton College—manages and determines the salaries of the people who feed us here on the Hill. We suspect that Bon Appétit may have made this change to deter students from using the Diner as their primary food source on campus, which we can’t blame them for if we think about the demands that the Diner employees have faced during their hectic shifts.
Still, the College could have done a better job justifying these changes to the campus community. The new Diner plan was announced through a few short emails; we received no explanation as to why these new costs were being passed on to students who had already paid for a full meal plan. A thorough explanation to the student body could go a long way towards ameliorating the ire this unexpected action has generated. Then, if students feel that Dining Services’ explanation is insufficient, they can demand rollbacks to the Diner price hikes.