Ask The Observer: Are grab-n-go point values fair?
Maggie Eastland | Monday, November 21, 2022
Notre Dame’s grab-and-go lives up to its name for convenience, but some students are questioning how the point-based prices are determined.
Open between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., the grab-n-go locations in North and South dining halls offer quick meal options for students on the run, including snacks, drinks and pre-packaged sandwiches. Each swipe is worth 7 points, and items in the grab-and-go are labeled based on how many points they cost.
Some students walk away with a sandwich, a side and a drink. Others leave with a Body Armor sports drink and a mandarin orange cup.
Osman Heredia, a freshman living in Keenan, said he likes to stop at the grab-n-go for extra snacks and to use up meal swipes. He said not all item point values are created equal.
“It’s a little unbalanced when this coffee is the majority of my points,” Heredia said, pointing to his plastic bottle of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
Cole Noss, a junior, appreciates the grab-n-go service even though he said the items are not exactly a good value.
“It’s pretty sick. Essentially, I don’t use all my points, so I might as well get the free food,” he said.
But when it comes to point-value fairness, Noss isn’t sold.
“When you actually do the math for like three peanut butter and jellies… it gets you to like six or seven points, so mathematically, no [it’s not a fair system],” he said.
Reggie Kalili, director of student dining, said there is no dollar value assigned to each swipe because meal plans are included in the holistic, $16,710 total for room and board.
“It’s part of room and board, so we don’t have that [swipe value]. It’s part of one fund,” he said.
Still, guests who visit either dining hall will pay $17.85 for a lunch meal.
Students access that same dining hall meal — or a visit to the grab-n-go — for the cost of one swipe.
Compared to the $17.85 estimated swipe value, the value of the items in the grab-n-go falls short of what guests pay for a swipe.
If dollar values are assigned to grab-n-go items based on a guest lunch meal swipe, price premiums emerge for nearly every item.
An RX Bar that costs $1.84 per unit at Target costs 4 points — comparable to $10.20 — in the grab-n-go. Other items from Pop-Tarts to Pringles have point values that quadruple the retail price available to consumers shopping at Walmart, Kroger or Target. Pudding cups, which cost $0.27 per unit or one grab-n-go point, include a 1772% markup.
Kalili said the point values are determined by the cost of the items and by a review of how many items a student with a meal plan can take home with a single swipe.
“Those are determined by the cost of the items,” he said. “It’s really the cost of the item, and the cost of the item equates to so many points.”
Before 2020, when meal plans gave students a given number of swipes per week, students could use more than one swipe at once at the grab-n-go. Now, students have a block meal plan and can only swipe into the grab-n-go every 45 minutes.
Prior to the change, students flocked to the grab-n-go each Friday to use up remaining swipes and fill their makeshift dorm pantries.
“The 45-minute pause was put in place, and that was really to prevent that,” Kalili said. “That really wasn’t what the meal plan was for. It wasn’t just so people could use up all their swipes and stock up on orange juices as mixers for a party that weekend.”
Campus Dining tries to limit this kind of stock-up behavior, Kalili explained.
“The way that the grab-n-go was originally designed was to be an alternative, not a replacement for the meal within the dining hall,” he said.
When it comes to what items make an appearance in the grab-n-go, Kalili says that they are chosen by popularity, request and vendor agreements.
“If you look in grab-n-go, there’s a lot of choices, and those come from, primarily from students, and what they take and don’t take, but then we also deal with our vendors,” he said.
Kalili said this year’s guacamole cups reflect a collaborative effort with a new vendor. The Quest and Pure Protein bars were recently added by student request, he added.
“If somebody has an idea or a suggestion, we would definitely look at bringing that in,” Kalili said.
Contact Maggie Eastland at [email protected]