Home Campus Eat Your Green: The future and finances of Culinary Services

Eat Your Green: The future and finances of Culinary Services

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Boyd Dining Hall on West Green. File photo by Connor Perrett.

Culinary Services’ annual income is continuously decreasing while its expenses remain steady, according to information gathered from the Ohio University Budget Book for fiscal year 2019.

The majority of Culinary’s yearly revenue comes from room and board — money the university receives from students living in a dorm or purchasing a meal plan. Ohio U expects to have nearly 400 fewer undergraduate students in 2019 compared to the previous years, which could cause Culinary to lose nearly half a million dollars in revenue next year. That trend is expected to continue into the near future, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

As a result, Culinary may have to cut back on their operating hours, Associate Vice President for Auxiliaries Gwyn Scott said. Culinary is already considering closing East Green’s Shively Court on Sundays and has experienced declines in revenue and increased expenses in recent years.

During a Student Senate meeting in March 2019, senators deliberated a resolution that could expand the meal swipe donation program. Several senators voiced their support for the program because they believed it could help address food insecurity on campus.

Culinary already had enough donated swipes to last the rest of the semester and implementing the program year-round could significantly harm Culinary’s finances, Residence Life Commissioner Hunter Graffice said. Culinary estimated that they would lose millions of dollars in revenue if this program went into place. 

“They’re already hurting, and we would hurt them further,” Graffice said. 

In 2015, Culinary made over $11 million in operations alone; in 2019, Culinary expects to make just over $1 million from operations. Culinary predicts that it will spend over $5 million more in fiscal year 2019 than it did in fiscal year 2015; around $4 million of this spending comes from salaries, wages and benefits. Rising healthcare costs contribute to this hike in employee-related expenses, Scott said.

“We’ve been in a steady growth mode so this reduction in enrollments, it’s challenging for us because usually we’re in the benefit of saying, ‘Oh, yes we can do that, we can add to our operations or we can add to our hours.’ So this trimming and nipping here and there is challenging,” Scott said.

The university requires that Culinary can’t experience a loss in revenue since it’s an artery of the university. To ensure that it remains profitable, Culinary operates a reserve system. If the organization experiences a financially successful year, it can place the earnings in its reserves for a year when money is tight. These reserves are not infinite, and there is always a risk of them running out, Scott said.

While profits fluctuate from year to year, Culinary’s number of employees does as well.

Culinary was so understaffed at the beginning of the 2018 school year that Jill Stein, a former student coordinator at Boyd Dining Hall, often had to stay until midnight or later to close the dining hall alone or with only one other worker.

“We wouldn’t have people for dining hall cleanup and pots and pans,” Stein said. “It’s not a one person job and we always had one person working it. It was just hard to keep that one worker wanting to stay at Boyd because they aren’t getting that help during their job.”

Student workers — or “green shirts” as they are called at Boyd — were often not motivated to do the work the job entailed, and they did not like taking advice from managers, Stein said. To make matters worse, Culinary did not have the time or money to properly train its managers.

To combat severe understaffing, Culinary raised student workers’ starting wages. As a result, Culinary’s number of employees climbed to a normal level by the spring semester, Director of Culinary Services Rich Neumann said.

By that time, Stein had already quit her job at Boyd because of issues related to understaffing.

“I wished that I could have done better; I wished that I could have seen a change because of me,” she said. “Not that there was no way to see a change, but I wasn’t getting any satisfaction from what I felt like I was doing for other people. I know that my positivity wasn’t enough and that sucks.”

Another Culinary employee, Mindee Graves, said she enjoys her job at West 82. Graves began at Culinary in the spring, after the organization expanded its staff.

“There are years that we have plenty of student employees and have all of our venues fully staffed,” Scott said. “And there are other years … that we’re challenged.”

“Green shirts” will return to their old jobs in the dining halls this fall, or start new ones, and Culinary leaders will continue to keep a close eye on their reserves and revenue streams, as money is projected to get tighter in the years to come.

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