By Ben SuazoCOPY CHIEF
Hold onto your receipts from Lackmann, because you may want to ask for a refund. The prices you paid for the same food or drink may have varied by as much as $2.25 in past months, even if you never set a foot off campus.
Customers have found that the prices of certain items were inconsistent and varied with their location on campus, even though all Hofstra dining halls and kiosks are operated by a single organization, Lackmann Culinary Services.
These concerns were addressed by Lackmann in October after the director of dining services became aware of the complaints, although some price inconsistencies could still be found from both posted prices and printed receipts as recently as Monday this week.
On Wednesday night, the price of an order of five mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce was still listed as $7.25 at Hofstra USA on the North Campus, versus $5.00 for those same sticks and sauce as a side at the Student Center. But the receipt for an order at Hofstra USA did in fact show that $5.00 was being charged at both locations, consistent with Lackmann’s Oct. 30 report to its student Food Committee that the price at Hofstra USA had been lowered in response to student complaints.
All products in this article were compared for their listed and charged prices during the same day, to ensure that the only qualitative difference by which students could visibly distinguish those items was the different dining location of each item.
Lackmann’s decision to ensure consistent prices on campus came after Jesse Lender, chair of the Student Services Committee in SGA, raised students’ concerns to the attention of Dennis Lestrange, director of dining services for Lackmann on campus, and Crystal Samuel, the marketing manager.
“The mozzarella sticks pricing issue was brought to our attention at a Food Committee meeting and corrections were made. Same with the Vitamin Water from Dutch Treats – this correction was made; both are [the] same price at each location. Any same size, same brand retail items should be the same price campus wide,” said Lestrange and Samuel via email.
Although Lestrange and Samuel did acknowledge and reconcile the inconsistent prices on campus, they did not provide an explanation to suggest why Lackmann prices had differed initially.
Joel R. Evans, professor of marketing and international business, said that although he could not speak for Lackmann’s specific case, he believed that any chain of stores might post different prices in order to account for different operating costs at each store.
“It’s not atypical to have different prices at different venues. You could go into two supermarkets from the same chain, five blocks apart, and have different prices,” Evans said.
But to Talie Geretz, a commuter who is pursuing a minor in business and taking a class in marketing, the differences between prices at separate locations on campus struck her as being “unethical.” The junior psychology major said that she usually eats off campus but then uses Lackmann’s dining services when she is working at the Saltzman Center, which is near Bits & Bytes.
“If I parked on the south side of campus, I wouldn’t want to pay more for a banana than if I parked on the north side and walked through the Student Center,” Geretz said.
You may not have paid different prices for a banana – whole fruits appeared to have been consistently priced at $1.25 across campus since prices were set on Sept. 1 – but the price discrepancies for certain other items were readily apparent to anyone who looked for them. The price of a 20 fl. oz. bottle of Vitamin Water varied by as much as 42 cents on Monday of this week: Dutch Treats charged $3.32 while the Student Center charged $2.90. As of Wednesday night, the listed Dutch Treats price had been reprinted as $2.90, indicating that Lackmann may have reacted this week to specific complaints about Dutch Treats’ higher pricing.
Michael Ogazon, the director of budget and campus dining who manages Hofstra’s dining services contract and serves as its liaison with Lackmann, expected that all inconsistencies were resolved before this week, but also acknowledged that the culinary service might have missed the prices of Vitamin Water when it was reconciling its prices in response to Lender’s concern.
“I am aware of the variation in pricing for [two items, the mozzarella sticks and Vitamin Water] as a result of one of the Dining Services Committee meetings, and to my understanding both have been addressed and corrected. Dining services does their best to keep these types of incidents to a minimum, unfortunately these two items were missed,” Ogazon said.
Now that the culinary service is addressing specific complaints about inconsistent prices on campus, Lender said that the next step is to convince the two organizations to make their agreements more transparent to students. Lender said that he is making student concerns about Lackmann’s prices one of his top priorities in the Student Services Committee this fall.
“The end goal would be: let’s see the contract. Oftentimes when you work with the Dean of Students and Lackmann you encounter, ‘we’re not allowed to talk about that.’ I have found that they might say that because those details might be in the contract and they’re not allowed to disclose that information,” Lender said.
It is Lender’s hope that the contract between Hofstra and Lackmann may reveal the answers to many student concerns that run up against a dead end.
“I think it would make initiatives with Lackmann more clear,” Lender said. “Does it say how often they can increase their prices? Or where students can have a [political] pull? It could just give us more direction.”