Why Is Your Dinner So Expensive? A Look At YU’s Rising Cafeteria Price
Yaffa Shekhter (SSSB ‘24) was rudely awakened when she returned to Beren Campus after her winter break in her hometown of Hollywood, FL. As Shekhter walked through the cafeteria, she noticed something different about all of her favorite foods: The price of a standard dinner was raised by a dollar, the sushi was more expensive and the price of her favorite fish was raised by a dollar and a half.
As an out-of-towner, Shekhter spends most of her Shabbatot and whole weekends on campus, thus spending more money on meals than the average in-town student. “As someone who lives outside of New York and eats most if not all of her meals at Stern, the rise in cafeteria prices has increased angst among students,” she shared with The Commentator.
Shekhter doesn’t buy drinks at the caf; if she is buying a main dish, she won’t get a salad from the salad bar or soup as well. Yet she still ran out of caf money in the last three weeks of the fall semester, and she found herself relying on Cram n’ Crunch and the local Fairway for sustenance.
As of Fall 2021, resident students have three options for meal plans: the High Plan of $2,000, the Standard Plan of $1,750 and the Low Plan of $1,500. Shekhter is on the Standard meal plan, meaning $1,500 are allotted for caf money and $250 are allotted for flex dollars
“In general I am spending more money as a student, and the meal plan is already expensive,” Shekhter added. “I’m here until the end of the semester, and the meals really add up. Why is it that a full Shabbos at Stern is the same price as a piece of fish on the average Tuesday?” Students who sign up for Shabbat on campus by Monday night pay $15 for both meals, the same price as fish for lunch during the week.
The Commentator inquired about the rise in prices and was pointed in the direction of Randy Apfelbaum, the chief facilities and administrative officer. Asked about the rise in prices, Apfelbaum said, “This is a collective decision we make collaboratively.” Apfelbaum noted that many parts of the YU community were included in the decision including The Finance Department, The Office of Student Life and Dining Services. The rise was made across the board for both Beren and Wilf campuses. Apfelbaum did not respond to two separate emails requesting the exact numbers of cafeteria price increases.
The last time students saw an increase in prices was over the summer. According to Apfelbaum, cafeteria prices are generally increased on a yearly basis, but they could not wait until the summer as “prices were going up everywhere.” He explained, “Our suppliers are raising prices; if you go to all the restaurants, they are raising prices, the supermarkets are raising prices. We have no choice. We’d rather not. Clearly we don’t want to.”
Thus, the decision was made to raise the prices right before the start of the spring semester. All increases are determined by the price of how much it costs. “It depends on the price of fish, it depends on the price of eggs, lettuce,” Apfelbaum explained. “Each item is different because some items didn’t go up, because we were able to make it work.”
Rabbi David Pahmer, Jewish Studies lecturer and Math for Business instructor in the Sy Syms School of Business, elaborated that this issue is “probably due to the supply chain troubles” caused by COVID-19. Consequently, YU sometimes cannot find its regular supplies — such as whipped cream cheese — and may have to get those supplies from more expensive sources. Rabbi Pahmer noted that “prices may fall when those troubles are resolved.”
He added, “The caf [also] has expenses as overhead that have to get included into the food prices, such as the packaging and employee salaries, that might have also led to price increases, which won’t come down after COVID.”
Although the prices didn’t go up for everything, Akiva Kamornick (SSSB ‘24) is feeling the effects from those that did. Kamornick would always enjoy spending time with his friends over a good dinner. However, he often finds himself rationing or not buying enough food for fear of running out of money.
“It’s hard to enjoy your food when you know that you just spent over 15 dollars on one meal,” said Kamornick. “On the one hand you want to sit and relax and eat after a long, hard day, but on the other hand, you think about the amount of times you can do it before having to look for other options.” Kamornick also mentioned that he works part-time at Burgers & Grill, where the food is cheaper, making the average cafeteria dinner meal more expensive than restaurant food. For example, a burger, fries and soda costs $16.54 in the Wilf caf, as opposed to $15.99 at Burgers & Grill when paying via caf card.
Asked if he would consider putting more money on students’ cards to accommodate the rising prices, Apfelbaum responded, “We don't want to change the price of the buy in mid-year; we will change it this summer.” This is done often, according to Apfelbaum, but was not done this year because of COVID-19. “But people have already registered, people have already put money on their caf card,” Apfelbaum said.
“You can always add money. There is never a penalty to add money, and it goes into flex dollars, and it’s tax-free anyway,” Apfelbaum concluded. “It’s unfortunate; it’s not something we like to do, it’s not something we want to do, it’s unfortunate.”
Photo Caption: Caf prices have increased significantly over the past few months.
Photo Credit: Micah Pava