Dining Hall Department Faces Price Squeeze

Kitchens Faced With Limited Budget, Student Demands for Food 'Like Mom's'

"We try to serve food as much like home as possible. But we cannot hope to imitate home cooking or achieve the relaxed atmosphere of eating with one's own family. ...We also must cater to a variety of tastes and still remain within a budget."

These words, spoken by Carle T. Tucker, director of the Dining Hall Department, illustrate well the many dilemmas which face the administrators of the various dining halls within the University. A tight budget, some inevitable degree of dissatisfaction with the menu or with eating conditions, an institutional flavor to the food unlike Mother's cooking, facilities outmoded by College expansion--all of the factors work to the detriment of the Dining Hall Department.

Worth $590 Per Year?

It is a recurrent question, especially when the menu features chipped beef or Hungarian goulash, whether Harvard food is worth $590 per year. Does the kitchen administration do a satisfactory job in satisfying student palates, or is the food here poorer than at other colleges? The Dining Hall Department, caught in a price squeeze and without adequate understanding from the student body, finds itself trapped in the middle, trying to satisfy budgetary requirements and at the same time attempting to provide enjoyable meals.

Food is big business within the University. During the last fiscal year, the Dining Hall Department spent $3,576,547--but less than half of this amount went directly to wholesale grocers. In fact, the Department spends only 44.3 per cent of its annual budget on the 31,000 pounds of flour or the 60,000 quarts of milk used monthly in its operations. If budget trimming can be practiced in the Department, it might start among the salaried workers. Wages account for 44.1 per cent of the Department's expenditures, and a reduction might make a drop in the board rate feasible.


Manpower Efficiency Sought

Certainly there are exceptions to the assistant director's claim, "We are using our manpower 100 per cent efficinetly." Why should two women in the Freshman Union automatically dole out two pats of butter to each and every student? Must an employee be paid $1.30 per hour to stand idly behind a coffee urn waiting for an occasional order? Progress is being made in this direction, however, as a study is currently underway to assess the efficiency of workers within the Department.

Labor is high-priced in Cambridge. Harvard, one of the two Ivy League schools with a union contract, pays the top wages for kitchen workers, along with Yale. A new contract last year played an important part in the board hike. But, at the same time, Harvard provides less expensive meals than Yale, especially when the policy of seconds is considered. Yalies shell out about $520 for eighteen meals--which, according to Tucker, comes to over $602 for a full 21-meal schedule, and the unfortunate Elis cannot have seconds on meat. Students at Princeton pay $560 yearly for a 21-meal week, but these meals are catered by Howard Johnson's, which uses non-unionized labor and which gives only limited portions.

Unlimited Seconds' Unique

The expensive policy "unlimited seconds" is strictly a Harvard institution, unique in the country. "The pride of the University is involved, and we will not drop this policy," Tucker states. Here, however, is another area in which board rates might possibly be cut. Why should Harvard stand in splendid isolation by serving seconds on meat? To serve 2,200 dinners, the Central Kitchen will usually order about 2,000 pounds of meat. Without additional servings, the amount purchased might be cut by as much as 15 per cent--with a corresponding reduction in rates. On the other hand, the quality of food might be upgraded.

Apart from the budgetary angle, the Dining Hall Department is engaged "in a continuous search to serve better food," a quest which many undergraduates believe does not exist. Since July 1, the University's "meat standards have been upgraded," according to dining hall magnates. An official University inspector checks all meat before purchase, and marks satisfactory pieces with a special stamp. No beef carcase or gross of turkeys can enter any of the University's kitchens without the stencilled mark of approval.

Test Dietician Added to Staff

Tucker points at two other recent developments aimed at improving food quality and reducing estimated costs. A test dietician, added to the University staff on January 1, now "studies nutrition on a scientific basis." This researcher takes slabs of meat, cooks them in different methods at varying temperatures, and tries to attain optimum palatability with a minimum of food shrinkage. The less the shrinkage, the less food needed for preparation. In addition, all purchasing for the kitchens is now handled through competitive bidding, which has brought a reduction in delivered prices. Both these moves aim at cutting down or minimizing the cost spiral in which the Dining Hall Department is trapped.

Standardization Considered

Hallowed tradition, however, poses a stumbling block for further attempts at reducing cost or increasing efficiency. The Department is considering standardization of menus at all Houses, a move which would have two "beneficial" aspects. "Such a plan would aid us in purchasing food in bulk quantities. More important, it would eliminate the myth that one House has better food than another."