Point of View: Feeling the squeeze: A la carte system best for campus dining

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By Daniel Houston

Like many of you, I’ve had to deal with a seemingly irresolvable problem that has plagued college roommates for decades: some groceries just seem to disappear faster than they should.

You probably know what I’m talking about. You go to the store to fetch groceries for your apartment, buy some delicious product you and your roommates all enjoy (at my place, orange juice is revered above all other juices), only to find it consumed within days or even hours of its purchase.

You see, I love me some orange juice. But so do my roommates (in at least one case, more so than I). When one of us buys the juice for all to drink, we immediately become a threat to each other’s stake in its consumption.

If I don’t get my share now, someone else will and I might end up with nothing. So we all guzzle the juice, competing ravenously for a share in the scarce resource before it disappears completely, which it inevitably does sooner than it should.

Now what was supposed to last until Saturday is gone by Monday. As you can imagine, continuing to purchase orange juice at the breakneck pace at which we drink it would be rather expensive.

So from Tuesday to Saturday, we go without. It’s a sad state of affairs.

Or at least it used to be, before we solved the age-old problem. More on this later.

Many of Baylor’s campus services, curiously enough, are provided in the same manner, invoking many of the same problems as my apartment’s greedy orange-juice guzzling.

Let’s say every student buys one meal from an on-campus dining hall. The meal is provided buffet-style, with each student paying a universal rate of entry, then taking as much food as they like.

Without the constraint of judgment associated with purchasing individual items for set prices, students are encouraged to take more food than they would have otherwise, and often more than they can even eat (I was especially guilty of this when I lived on campus).

So Baylor Dining Services is faced with a choice: either let the food run out whenever it may, ration it carefully so it lasts the whole semester, or buy more food to compensate for the increased consumption pattern.

Since they can’t simply cut off the food supply like my apartment must with orange juice (we can’t have starving students, after all), and since there’s no fair way to ration the food among students, dining services increases the amount of food it buys.

The increase in food purchases increases the cost associated with purchasing a meal plan in the buffet format.

This explains why buying a meal plan on campus is actually more expensive than eating at most restaurants on a regular basis. So much food without an incentive for students to restrain themselves to what they’re actually willing to pay for has created an expensive and cumbersome dining system, the price of which all students with meal plans have to bear.

Now back to my apartment’s orange juice fixation, and how we solved our problem.

It turns out when each person buys their own orange juice, and others are forbidden from drinking what’s not his own, we all drink responsibly.

There’s no mad rush to “get what’s yours,” so to speak, and we can imbibe at our own differing and comfortable paces. The supply of the juice at our place is directly proportional to our individual demands for it.

And guess what? It works great.

If Baylor dining policy did away with the buffet system for meal plans tied what students pay to the amount of food they actually get, it would make students responsible for what they buy and eat.

That move would alleviate the financial burden of the system as a whole, and make living on campus a more affordable and attractive option for students.

Daniel Houston is a junior philosophy major from Arlington and a reporter for the Lariat.