Several years of a stagnant economy, mixed with a yearly increase in tuition drives the want and need for better value out the roof. Just as most Americans want more for their money, college students also want more for their money.

        In 2013, the University of Montevallo changed its food service vendor from Sodexo to Chartwells, a daughter company of Compass Group North America.

        Beforehand, complaints were high among university students and faculty. Sodexo wasn’t providing the socially conscious or numerical options that university students and faculty expected. And the quality that Montevallo students and faculty seek to get in return was dubious at best. With the introduction of Chartwells, has cafeteria moral, quality and value improved?

        In the fall of 2013, a meal plan is $1,161.00 per student, which comes out to be around $1,625,400 total per semester.

According to Scott Giddens, the director of food services of Falcon Foods, “the university provides us with utilities and kitchen supplies.” So overhead is limited to employees and food costs.

There is an average of 1,400 meal plans purchased, with approximately 1,700 student, faculty and locals eating in the cafeteria daily. The cafeteria is open for 113 days a semester.

If you are paying out of pocket for a meal in the cafeteria, breakfast is $6, lunch is $7 and dinner is $8. On average, 150 out of pocket meals are purchased a week, which is $1,050 a week.

The cost of a meal plan divided by the number of days the cafeteria is open comes out to be $10.27. Divide $10.27 by three (number of meals in a day), and you have $3.42. On average, at $1,161.00 per semester, each student is allotted $3.42 per meal, not including overhead.

        According to Giddens, “I believe students are getting incredible value. We only use the highest quality product.”

        From fresh cut fruit with yogurt and granola at breakfast to Southern fried chicken, mac and cheese and green beans at lunch, it’s hard to disagree with that.

        “If you go out to eat, I will even take all you can eat out of the equation, how much would you expect to pay for what you get…$15?” asked Giddens.

        The University or Chartwells won’t comment on the amount Chartwells charges the university, but with everything that students are receiving in quality, service and options, it can’t be cheap.

        If Chartwells charges the university $1,625,400 per semester, based on meal plans sold, Chartwells is feeding Montevallo and paying its employees on $3.42 per meal. If the university is paying more than $1.6 million and providing utilities, then our university is running the cafeteria on pennies a day, if anything.

        According to Nate Gower, PM and weekend supervisor for Chartwells, “Working for Chartwells isn’t bad. We have good benefits and the pay is pretty good.”

        During the transition, Chartwells kept the staff that came from Sodexo.

        Giddens said, “I was the only one they brought in and only one former employee asked for a transfer to UAB.”

        In everyday life, adults have been playing hide and seek with value; in most areas, the adults are losing. The best alone doesn’t cut it anymore. When it comes to food it has to be the best, paired with the lowest price.

        It’s painful and undeniably human. In times such as these, our search for a better value often leads to complaining. While the demand for value is at its highest point and the struggle to pay the increases in tuition is becoming more difficult, should we be asking ourselves, “At what point are we willing to sacrifice?”