UC Davis increases dining prices

California’s minimum wage increase was the key driver of the increase.

Published in FSD C&U Spotlight

Students at the University of California, Davis, are now paying more for their food—but some of them may also be getting a pay raise. Beginning in September, Associated Students Dining Services (ASDS) increased prices on many of the menu items sold at the ASUCD Coffee House, CoHo South Café and CoHo To Go locations. This is the first increase since 2010, and was largely driven by a mandated increase in California’s minimum wage—from $8 an hour to $9 an hour—which went into effect in July, according to Darin Schluep, foodservice director for ASDS.

As a part of Associated Students at the University of California, Davis, ASDS operates on a break-even financial basis, and the minimum wage increase meant that Schluep had to account for additional labor costs of approximately $250,000. “We employ about 300 students, and they’re all hourly, all minimum wage,” he says. “As a break-even operation, we had to figure out a way to make that even out.”

But while the minimum wage increase is directly tied to ASDS’ labor costs, Schluep says that he didn’t have to reduce staff. Instead he actually increased his staff size based on the growth of the operation as well as an increase in campus population. “This year’s freshman class is the largest in [UC Davis] history,” Schluep says. “We built staff to meet those demands.”

Schluep’s decision to increase food and beverage prices began immediately after he heard the news that the minimum wage increase had passed. To start, groups of ASDS student employees compared food prices with other foodservice operations, both on and off campus. “We tout ourselves as the best deal in town,” Schluep says. “We wanted to maintain that and make sure we were competitive, even with a price increase.”

Once the price comparison data was compiled, Schluep evaluated his entire menu mix—approximately 400 items—and made adjustments where he could. The menu items that did go up in price increased an average of 8%, which translated to approximately 10 cent to 15 cents per item. Schluep tried to maintain prices on healthy items such as whole fruit and yogurt. “I tried to be as strategic as I could,” he says of the price increases.

For the most part, Schluep says that student customers, faculty and staff have been understanding, something that he attributes in part to the minimum wage increase being featured prominently in state and national news. “We also armed our cashier staff with talking points since that’s where we figured customers would voice concerns,” he says. “We understand it’s not an easy thing to absorb sometimes, and it’s always a challenge to get the word out and let people know what’s going on.”

This might not be the last price increase, however. Schluep says that food and beverage prices are always something he’s evaluating. The California minimum wage is set to increase by an additional dollar an hour in January 2016, and Schluep says that he doesn’t know if he’ll need to make another adjustment when that happens—but if he does, it won’t be a decision that he’ll take lightly. “I was a student at UC Davis. I paid my way and I know what it’s like to have a shoestring budget,” he says. “When we look at price increases, it’s a big deal.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion
Richard cousins

Compass Group confirmed this morning that CEO Richard Cousins was killed on New Year’s Eve in a small-plane crash off the coast of Australia. He was 58.

Cousins was scheduled to step down as CEO in March, after leading the world’s largest foodservice management company for 11 years. His planned successor, Compass COO Dominic Blakemore, has agreed to assume Cousins’ duties immediately.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news,” Compass Chairman Paul Walsh said in a statement. “It has been a great privilege to know Richard personally and to work with him for...

Menu Development
to-go meals

Drew Allen didn’t hesitate when asked what he expects of noncommercial dining in the future. “Change,” he says. “We have to change with the times and what our guests are looking for.”

Allen, the director of culinary services at Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices in Lebanon, Ohio, says the more the residents and guests at Otterbein change, the more diverse eating habits his team has the chance to explore. One of those changing habits, he says, is diners’ growing desire for portable, made-to-order items . That’s a theme borne out by data, too—and is true across dayparts. Roughly 67%...

Ideas and Innovation
trail mix

We’ve added fueling stations in our units for our workers who didn’t have time to eat or just need a snack. We have areas set up with trail mix, crackers, cookies and water. It helps us avoid people feeling or getting ill, especially when we get closer to exam periods and student workers are studying and not taking the time to eat.

Ideas and Innovation
email

Communication is key, and [managers] are busy too. One tip I picked up from another director was to label my subject line with the header “action,” “information” or “response” followed by a brief description of the email contents. That way they can filter through their inboxes during their busy days to know which emails need their attention immediately and which they can save to read later.

FSD Resources