By Eli Saperstein, Opinions Editor
Spring has sprung and it’s the time of year when YU students begin searching for the most elusive of students and no, I’m not talking about male psych majors. I’m talking about caf Daddies. However, this year it seems that they are few and far in between. Where did all the caf Daddies go?
Reasons for this abound, but the prevailing explanation is due to the increase in caf prices. Many, like myself, have been extremely frugal, and have tried to spend as little as possible in order to try to make our caf dollars stretch until the very last day of the semester. Recently, it seems that every conversation in the caf, eventually leads to “so how much do you have left.” However, since Pesach break, “Caf Daddies” (students who as the spring semester comes to a close and the deadline to spend caf dollars or lose them, offer to pay for meals for their friends who have run out of their caf dollars) have begun coming out of hibernation in anticipation of the semester ending and all their nonrefundable caf money being taken by YU. This, of course, has prompted some new practices in the caf. For example, instead of simply tapping your ID, one is now required to take it out and show the cashier, confirming one’s identity and only subsequently being able to purchase food. However, much of this is for naught as caf daddies appear to be much less prevalent than in years past due to the aforementioned price increase.
An anonymous student (YC ‘24) shared, “I purchased the standard plan for this semester since I had roughly $200 leftover from the previous semester where I had the high plan which also had lower prices.”
While this year is not particularly unique, as every year students seem to get upset over the caf (even without an unforeseen price increase) this is a time when students are upset and feel unheard when it comes to the caf. There have been pushes in the student body towards organizing and creating chats that are provocative such as “YU Caf Boycott” where there has been a petition made with hundreds of signatures expressing the student body’s disappointment in the caf to chats about free pizza and leftover food as students realize that they simply cannot afford to live off the caf . No student is thrilled with the rules that are finally being enforced which, according to YU, have been put in place to abide by laws regarding the tax exemption status of the system, as well as the inventory controls YU has put in place in order to ensure proper service. Yet, I believe it is well overdue to analyze whether that 9% discount that this entire hassle is over is actually worth it.
“At the end of the semester, I am already low on funds even though I frequently skip meals, opting to go to events where they sponsor free food,” the anonymous student continued. “This shouldn’t make sense since the standard plan is implied to be able to provide three meals a day for the entire semester.”
There are signs that have been put out by the cashier stations saying that students cannot pay for other students as “Dining Club card funds are non-transferable and can only be used for purchases by and for the person whose name and picture are on the card.” Another sign says that there is “a daily limit of $100 on grocery purchases and 6 of the same item.” These are understandable rules. What makes less sense is when grocery items cost significantly more in the caf stores than everywhere else, completely eating through any “savings” from the 9% discount.
I believe the distinction needs to be made in the cafeteria system between the food that is made in-house versus the other items made available, which are significantly more expensive. As of publication, buying a lunch with two sides is $12.75, whereas a single packet of beef jerky is $9.99. The same item can be bought and delivered from Amazon for $5.99. This is not a unique example. It is harder to find an item not part of the actual “meal” that is at market price than isn’t. YU Dining Services appears to subsidize the actual meals that are bought, thus keeping the actual meal price itself low, relative to the recenty raised restaraunt prices, all the while, simultaneously increasing the prices of grocery or other food items that can be bought via the caf card. This appears to be consistent with the approach that YU has, where they kept the Shabbos meal prices at $15 while raising the prices of every single sushi item by approximately a dollar, making it more expensive than Chop Chop, even though YU Dining Services is supposed to be working for the students of YU with the purpose of keeping prices as low as possible. Sushi is not the only item that has suffered a price increase. Many, if not all, of the specialty items such as Chinese hotdogs and pizza snaps have been increased from approximately $3.75 to $4.75. That seems to have been the standard procedure throughout the caf, raising every item by a dollar.
YU requires the meal plan for those in the dorms, and first-year students are required to be in the dorms. While there are different options available, as YU offers three tiers, the lowest plan, called the “reduced plan,” is $1650. If something that is supposed to be a bargain needs to be enforced, it may be time to stop and rethink and allow students to begin to make their own choices. In addition, students who choose not to dorm are still required to participate in the meal plan.
While they are “only” required to put on $500 per semester and this plan purely consists of “flex dollars,” which are different from “caf dollars” as caf dollars are only able to be used in the YU cafeterias and YU stores. These “funds [that] may [be] used on campus and at participating local vendors. These funds are tax free and expire at the end of the spring semester.” In addition, on the YU Dining Services’ website it is unclear as to what the formula is used to disperse flex dollars vs caf dollars with the “low plan” allotting 10% of funds towards flex dollars whereas the “regular plan” allots just over 14%. For context the “high plan” allots 17.5%. It begs the question as to what the logic behind all this is and how or even if these requirements are for the benefit of the students.
The whole point of the caf system, at least according to the student body, is to provide the students with regular, accessible, and kosher food at an affordable price. YU Dining Services views it differently. They say that “[t]he Yeshiva University Undergraduate Dining Club Card is designed to give people greater convenience, accessibility, and money management in the Dining Halls, Facilities, and Convenience Stores located on the Wilf and Beren Campuses.” On the YU website, they mention that “One of the important benefits of enrolling in the YU meal plan is that purchases of food and/or beverages by YU undergraduate and graduate students are exempt from the NY sales tax, thereby providing an almost 9% discount or benefit on each qualifying purchase.” While the convenience of having kosher food available needs to be talked about, the question is at what cost? Being able to buy Dipsy Doodles for 1.50 in the YU vending machine at 2 AM is a wonderful service that is provided for the students. However, I know that I would rather not have to resort to wasting caf dollars in order to spend them all before I lose it.
Another important issue is that so many students still run out of caf dollars well before the semester ends. Others, who throughout the year who were wary of this exact situation, forced themselves to carefully crimp and save for fear of spending too much only to be left with hundreds of dollars on their account and unable to spend it on anything besides the ridiculously overpriced items in the YU caf. It may well be time to begin to question whether this system is working for everyone.
Thankfully, in an email sent out to the student body, YU is addressing this issue. YU has created and instituted a plan and emailed it out under the name “YUCares.” This appears to be exactly what students want, except that they aren’t able to give it to their friends. This wonderful plan is designed for someone with a lot of caf dollars to help a fellow student out with less – but up to $75.
The YU Cares program was advertised to the YU student body in an email sent out on May 6th “Building on previous years’ success with the YU Cares program, we are pleased to announce the Spring 2021 YU Cares program.
Students may designate a one-time payment of up to $75 to a special fund that will be made available to students in need, for use in YU’s cafeterias.”
While this may seem like “caf daddying” with extra steps, it is frustrating for students who want to help their friends or siblings that they cannot directly transfer or benefit them. Instead, they are being forced to trust the YU Dining Services. Students do not trust YU Dining Services and it is hard to blame them. YU Dining Services is a system that they are forced to cooperate with, a system that they have no say in, and a system that is not transparent, all the while raising the prices while not increasing the quality of service in any impactful way.
I do not want to appear to be angry or unreasonable, I am merely trying to express the frustration that is being felt by the entire student body. I would welcome a response from the YU Dining Services or anyone who is able to share what is going on behind closed doors with the student body. I, like all the rest of the student body, want things to be fixed and wish for the caf system to be more transparent and be better at communicating to the students. Of course, we would also appreciate it if the Häagen-Dazs were less than $7.59 (for comparison you can buy Häagen-Dazs or even Ben & Jerry’s at Key Foods for less than $6). This is a difficult time worldwide and the supply chain crisis is of course affecting us like everyone else. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to work things out to make these issues easier for the students.
What I am sure would be appreciated by the entire student body would be to lower the minimum payments in order to join the plan as well as not requiring it for students in the first place, especially for students who do not live on campus. Converting more, if not all caf funds to flex dollars while seemingly unreasonable and unrealizable should be a starting point for conversations and discussions going forward. If you have to require something that is beneficial (unless it’s a vaccine of course) there’s generally something wrong with what is being required.