Is Campus Dining Worth the Price?


Recently, a student at Seattle University posted a message on a non Seattle U affiliated Instagram account @sea.ttleuconfessions seeking alternative dining options because they were finding it difficult to afford to eat more than one meal a day through dining services on campus. The student’s request speaks to a bigger debate regarding whether the dining options are fairly priced or if they could stand to be more affordable and accessible. While the university continues to consult good distributors and vendors about reasonable prices, it has failed to ensure that all students can obtain three meals a day. 

Seattle U requires all first and second-year students living on campus to choose from the maximum ($2,448), expanded ($2,040), or residential ($1,632) meal plan options. 

Upperclassmen are not required to have one, but they and students living off-campus have the option of purchasing traditional or more limited plans. Meal plans are the main way through which on-campus students pay for their food, yet given the cost of food on campus, some students find it difficult to afford a sufficient plan.

Students have a multitude of on-campus dining options to choose from. The main dining hall on campus, Cherry Street Market (C-Street), has remained open despite COVID-19 disruptions. However, some of the other on-campus dining options that were available last quarter have either been only open for lunch, moved to The Cave in Campion Hall or reopened Jan. 31, the day that in-person classes returned.

This quarter, Redhawk Dining brought back the pasta bar at the Revolution station in the dining hall. There, students and other members of the campus community can customize their own pasta for $9.99. Many individuals also order from Redhawk Rudy where they can get hamburgers ($6.59), hand-crafted chicken tenders ($6.89), fries ($3.49) and grilled salmon ($8.99). At C-Street, the most expensive items have been the steak and prime rib entrees, both of which are currently priced at $14.99. 

Brie Bordner, co-director of dining services for Redhawk Dining, explained how the food prices were determined this year.

“Each year Redhawk Dining and leadership from Seattle University meet to discuss pricing and decide if any adjustments need to be made due to inflation, cost increases, etc.,” Bordner wrote. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this past year both partners decided against a price increase for 2021-2022, and all items remain at the price they were sold during the last academic year.” 

This year, Redhawk Dining launched new partnerships with local food trucks Naansense and Solamente. Bordner explained how Redhawk Dining determines the price of these new food options.

“Brand new items are set based on market price in the local area while also taking into account our cost of goods. Our new local restaurant partners, Naansense and Solamente might be perceived to have a higher price point. These items are prepared and delivered by the local restaurants and the prices reflect the selling point currently charged on their food trucks,” Bordner said.

Despite the Seattle U administration’s best efforts to maintain reasonable food prices, food insecurity remains a prevalent challenge for Seattle U students and other college students across the country. There is a higher prevalence of individuals experiencing food insecurity since the COVID-19 pandemic began. For example, 34% of respondents to a May 2020 survey conducted among collegiate students in Texas revealed that they faced food insecurity sometime within the month prior to taking the survey. It’s findings showed that the students most likely to be  impacted by food insecurity have dealt with recent housing problems and/or income losses.

First-year Pre-Major student Ian Van Eeuwen shared his thoughts about the affordability of campus dining and ideas for improvement.

“I think that the pricing of the food is pretty fair, but I think that there should be more options for combo meals so that you don’t have to buy everything separately, as well as more variety. It could help a lot with making things more affordable. I think that the meal plans are pretty good, although $9 per meal swipe isn’t the best,” Van Eeuwen said.

Fortunately, for students who may be struggling to afford on-campus meals or don’t have a meal plan, there are resources both on and off campus.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) serves as a major source of assistance for members of the Seattle U community. They offer a food pantry through which any undergraduate or graduate student—as well as faculty and staff who are experiencing food insecurity—can obtain free supplemental food. Milk, canned goods, breakfast staples, rice and vegetables are just some of the many different food items that people can receive.

Karina Saunders, assistant director of OMA, explained that the office receives the food from  drives, donations from students, Redhawk Dining and Costco orders. She also shared how the food pantry has continued to operate safely during the pandemic.

“Last year, we had people order online and then we would bag their goods and leave them outside for people to pick up. We reopened during the fall quarter and more and more people came each week,” Saunders said, “Now, anyone who shows their Seattle U ID, has filled out the Safe Start and is sanitized can go into the space and shop.”

Off campus, some local businesses offer reasonably priced options for Seattle U students. Spice Waala, an Indian street food restaurant located in the Capitol Hill and Ballard neighborhoods, was founded by a husband and wife duo including Aakanksha Sinha, who previously taught in the social work department at Seattle U. She explained Spice Waala’s discounted meal for students. Any student who shows their Seattle U ID gets a roll, fries and a drink for under $10, a healthy meal at a very low price.

One of the most important ways to ensure success in college is to take care of yourself, such as by getting enough sleep and eating a proper diet. For anyone struggling with food insecurity, take advantage of the OMA food pantry and/or special student discounts at local restaurants.