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Editorial

Pub math: raising prices, breaking even?

Last year I was a strong supporter of AfterMath. I ate there several times a week and praised the food, the specials, the service, the atmosphere, and definitely the cheap beer to anyone who would listen for more than a minute.

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By Dessa Bayrock (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: September 18, 2013

Last year I was a strong supporter of AfterMath. I ate there several times a week and praised the food, the specials, the service, the atmosphere, and definitely the cheap beer to anyone who would listen for more than a minute. I wasn’t the only one; the pub was often close to capacity and more than once the specials would sell out within a few hours.

It’s pretty simple math from the outside; students like pubs. Students liked AfterMath.

Judging from the crowds this week and last, that still appears to be true. But the Student Union Society (SUS), which ultimately runs AfterMath, has made some fundamental changes to the campus pub this year, and I’m not sure I agree with the result.

The UFV student pub has never made a profit, but this is not shocking information. It’s considered a service rather than a business, and its job is to provide cheap and plentiful food to students. Although it makes a tidy profit on some days, it often operates at a loss. This is why, like many other student pubs across the country, AfterMath is subsidized by student fees: part of the $30 you pay to SUS every semester is going toward AfterMath to keep it open and serving students.

For the last three years, SUS has endorsed optimistic budgets for the student pub. In 2010, it was given roughly $22,000. In 2011 it predicted it could break even, and was budgeted at $0. Finally, last year it was budgeted at approximately $80,000.

In all three years, the pub ended up costing SUS—and students—over $100,000 by the end of the year.

Last year, the process to siphon extra money into AfterMath was almost painfully public: the budget was tight, the possibility of closing the pub altogether was brought to the table, and money was eventually axed from other locations in the SUS budget to keep the pub open.

To keep fears of pub closure at bay this year, AfterMath was budgeted $130,000 for 2013-2014 – not an amount to sneeze at, but responsible budgeting considering how much it has consistently cost in the past.

As a cherry on top, new management stepped into AfterMath over the summer, overhauled the menu, and installed a new system for tracking orders, cost, and profit on a daily basis.

All the work that had gone into AfterMath, I assumed, was for one reason and one reason only: to better follow through on its mandate to provide cheap meals and beer to students on campus.

This is why, when I walked into AfterMath for the first time this semester, I was surprised to see that prices rose on practically every menu item over the summer.

The prices changed by three factors: firstly, prices seem to have jumped about a dollar in many cases. Pabst Blue Ribbon, for example, as the least expensive beer, has gone from a flat $3 to $3.99. Secondly, tax is no longer included in the menu price: 15 per cent tax applies to alcohol and five per cent to food. Thirdly, SUS offers a 10 per cent discount to anyone carrying a U-Pass, but only on food – not alcohol.

It’s this 10 per cent discount that allows SUS to say they’re still subsidizing their food – as SUS president Shane Potter tells me, “When the construction workers from the SUB come over, do you want them to pay subsidized pricing? I want them to pay full price. When administrators, staff, faculty come over – do you want them to pay the student price? I want them to pay full price.”

The logic seems to make sense, but the math doesn’t. Once you put tax into the mix, students save five per cent on the menu price of any food item, and are still paying an extra five per cent on alcohol menu prices.

If tax and subsidy roughly cancel each other out, that leaves us with the approximate $1 increase to many food items.

Potter says that the majority of these increases are coming as a result of inflation, or improper pricing last year.

“Last year they were literally selling some items at cost or below cost. That’s a problem,” he states. “[W]e need to make sure that the service can continue to exist. We’re not inflating things dramatically.”

But dramatic inflation is in the eye of the beholder: by adding a dollar to the price of a burger, by adding half a dollar to the price of a side of fries, AfterMath has landed itself in the same price range as Sodexo. The pub is no longer the cheapest place to eat on campus, but simply comparable – and if students are willing to make the trek to Finnegan’s, they stand to save at least a dollar and a half per pint of beer.

Food prices aside, there are other factors that might help to save AfterMath money over the year: students have filled the managerial positions, and are theoretically more committed to making AfterMath successful. (“The students are running it,” Potter says, “and they care.”) The new system, mentioned earlier, will allow staff to monitor what food sells and in what quantity on a daily basis and tailor the menu to those successes and failures.

No matter where the proposed savings are coming from, I’m forced to question the reasoning behind aiming for savings at all: at the end of the day, AfterMath has been given $130,000 for a reason, and to go from that to a budget of $0 seems like a huge and unsettling jump.

After all, if AfterMath were to break even this year, it would mean a profit for SUS. If the pub manages not to touch any of their allowed deficit fund, SUS will welcome an extra $130,000 into their budget, free to go towards whatever they want.

Serving students cheap food and making a profit are mutually exclusive terms in my mind. And looking at the pub’s history, serving students cheap food and breaking even should also be considered impossible.

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