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Students Need Affordable Lunches -- on Saturdays

Guest Column by Mark P. Hurst

My stomach grumbles. It is noon on Saturday, and like the many students, tourists, and conventioners I see around me, I am hungry. The bad news is that we have all chosen Lobdell Court to provide our dining experience. Noon on Saturday: in my opinion, a fairly rational choice for lunch. Far from it, Lobdell seems to say; all I have to choose from is the deli and Burger King. The deli is manned by a single person. The wait for a simple, made-on-the-spot lunch is interminable, so I do what so many other MIT students must have done today: I leave.

Lobdell's service schedule screams for common sense. But as campus dining is a hot topic these days, I would like to shed some light on a more important problem, which has vexed me for years: prices. Remember when the Pentagon was buying hammers for $800 apiece? ARA took notes. Here is a prime example: a 10 oz. bottle of apple juice goes for $0.90 in Lobdell l. In LaVerde's, where prices are already high, the same bottle of juice goes for $0.69. That's a 30.4 percent difference. In Lobdell, you have to pay $0.55 for a banana. In LaVerde's it is $0.25. Lobdell is pricing its bananas 120 percent over LaVerde's. How can ARA live with itself when it knows it is overcharging students at these rates? I can only think of two reasons: greed and incompetence.

"Greed?" you ask. Yes, greed. The only reason Lobdell charges such exorbitant prices is because it can. When you whip out your Student Services Card (why do we need another magnetic stripe? Wasn't one enough?), you aren't thinking about the money you're paying. To so many of us, the card represents "play money" with which we can pay for any meal we want without worrying about the price. But it's not play money. It's very real money, and we're throwing it away to play ARA's greedy game of fifty-five-cent bananas.

The thing that continues to amaze me is that ARA, even after driving up these in sane prices, is still not turning a profit on the MIT campus. One word thus rings through my humble, non-economist, capacity-challenged brain: incompetence. I have to commend ARA for the high quality ballpoint pen I received, free of charge, at the beginning of this school year. It has turned out to be the best ballpoint pen I own. But tell me this: Is a ballpoint pen going to make me want to pay ARA prices? What about the high-quality menu boards and signs and advertisements and those inane costumes for the workers on holidays? Why waste money on these unnecessary frills when what students really want are more affordable prices? I refuse to pay $2.45 for a single waffle, regardless of whether it has snazzy decorations telling me what toppings are available.

I realize that this column may bring some frustrated responses from campus dining services. I acknowledge that many people work very hard to provide the best possible service to the students. I am just trying to be honest in saying that some aspects of my dining experience are still wholly unsatisfactory. I don't want to join a committee, or fill out a polite survey, or meet with really important people. I just want reasonable prices. And lunch on Saturday.