Last year, when the last worker of the 33 Chilean miners was rescued from the mine in Copiapó, Chile, Aramark, the company that provides food services to UTSA, had already fed the miners 6,000 meals under contract with the Chilean government.
“First of all,” read a note sent to Aramark cooks from 2,300 feet under, “we wish to thank you for your goodwill and kindness towards us. Let there not be the slightest doubt that the service you have rendered has made a major difference in the food we eat we will soon be with you.”
But in the United States, where Aramark makes most of its profit from students, inmates and sports fans, the ambience seems to be entirely different.
“I can’t believe this. I don’t understand why on earth there are no independent options to eat on campus,” said Margaret Jackson, freshman political science major. “If you really think about it, there seems to be many options to eat at UTSA, but there are none. There is only one: Aramark.”
Aramark is in charge of managing all restaurants on campus, having acquired the licenses for commercial purposes of Burger King, Taco Cabana, Subway and many others.
Places like Starbucks often reward their customers with points and promotions, but not the ones at UTSA. This was a revelation for Jackson, who was left with her Starbucks rewards card in her hand.
More restaurants do not mean more options. When the Bauerle garage is finished, there will be three Starbucks on campus, none of which allow the Starbucks Rewards card or the Starbucks $.50 coffee refill, which entitles customers who buy a Starbucks coffee mug to get a $.50 refill, anywhere but licensed spots, such as the ones at UTSA.
And it is not only Starbucks; coupon books, which have been traditionally linked to student life, are of no use on campus.
“As a student you often rely on coupons and promotions that you would find in Groupon.com, or coupon books. But here you can’t do jack with them,” said Yaneth Guzman, senior public relations major.
“Being so many entrepreneurs at UTSA, and so many local business owners in San Antonio, does it not make sense to allow at least a fraction of our dining options to private owners?” asked Guzman.
Many students are beginning to wonder if having Aramark as a monopoly for food on campus is beneficial for the student body, especially after the recent changes at the Roadrunner Café.
“What they are doing is dead-wrong,” said sophomore Vanessa Angello, a former resident of Laurel Village. “It is preposterous to be forced to buy a meal plan when the least expensive option is around a thousand dollars,” Angello said. “UTSA is supposed to be an open access university, and yet, we are faced with outrageous living expenses that should not be forced onto students.”
Last year, the cheapest meal plan was $1,020 plus tax for a semester, and $1,341 plan plus tax for the most expensive. This year, Aramark’s meal plans range from $1,050 to $1,494 plus tax.
Since the opening of the Café, students could buy block meals that entitled them to 125-145 meals each semester, which included guests, making the Roadrunner Café one of the few university’s social hotspots.
Now, all of the plans are called access plans. These plans offer students the opportunity to eat an unlimited number of meals at the Roadrunner Café but limit the days they can eat and the guest passes. Students can choose between plans that offer unlimited meals Monday through Friday or plans that would also provide meals through the weekend.
Sophomore geology major Angela Rodriguez said, “It’s mandatory that you buy [a meal plan] if you live in Laurel or Chap. I had to buy an unlimited plan, and I only eat there three times a week.”
These new meal plans only offer a limited number of guest passes. Meal plan Access 5B, for example, offers unlimited meals Monday through Friday, 10 guest passes and $150 dining dollars. This is the cheapest plan that will allow students to bring their friends in with them with no out-of-pocket cost. The highest number of guest passes available on a plan is 20.
Sadie Rodriguez, sophomore biology major, says, “This year I have friends who do not live on campus anymore, but who eat lunch with me on certain days, but because I now have a dwindling amount of guest swipes, we will not be able to continue eating there together. They could pay for their meals, but they charge a ridiculous amount for the quality of food and service.”