Li: Uncommon, nonsensical solutions

Correction appended

It was the winter of 1950 in the Korean Peninsula. General Oliver Smith, watching his 1st Marine Division being crushed by the superior force of six Chinese divisions, kept his chin up. “Retreat?” he answered a skeptical reporter. “Hell … we’re simply advancing in another direction!”

Reading Yale Dining’s summer greetings, which outlined a number of exciting “initiatives,” including the grand debut of uncommon, I couldn’t help but wonder if General Smith somehow miraculously came back to life, sneaked into Information Technology Services, and wrote that message on Yale Dining’s behalf.

Indeed, so uncommon are those cost-revenue alignment initiatives that they make me wonder whether brevity was the real reason Yale University Dining Services shortened its name to Yale Dining — with no mention of services. Don’t get me wrong: Yale Dining should feel free to get rid of any unprofitable services, including that old customer favorite called Law School swipes.

Wouldn’t it make sense, nonetheless, for Yale Dining to adjust the price tag accordingly in order to reflect the unexpected elimination of certain important service options? Last time I checked the Yale Dining Web site, the price for the standard meal plan still stood at $2,500 per semester — equivalent to a poor Ugandan farmer’s living expense of six full years. Now that, my friend, is called price-value nonalignment.

If forfeiting Yorkside chicken wings and Law School sushi could lead to job security for working-class Americans, our privileged yet socially responsible future leaders might well stand behind Yale Dining’s noble cause. But the problem is that keeping everyone at Yale Dining happy suggests pink slips for Wall Street Pizza employees, and an unpleasant unemployment rate for mother New Haven. Case in point: Law School Dining recently fired two people. Sorry, guys, I guess your job loss is necessary for the greater good of the Yale community.

Little wonder Emma Watson opted for the school that serves grapefruit (in addition to orange and apple) juice and chocolate (in addition to zero-fat and skim) milk. She saw that Yale Dining announcement e-mail coming, and she knew that Yale policy dictates that freshmen have to purchase the meal plan. She learned the magic of reading the future at Hogwarts, remember?

But what even Miss Watson may find shocking is the fact that Yale Dining skipped a universe of common-sense cost-cutting methods before jumping single-mindedly to slashing swipes at affiliated dining venues.

First of all, before slashing customer options, may we inquire whether Yale Dining has ever considered a (small) pay cut on the executive level, assuming our senior management is not yet unionized? I mean, even some of the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street have to kiss their fat bonuses goodbye; maybe we can consider a similar symbolic move?

Further, let’s take a closer look at how exactly Yale Dining lost “$500,000 annually on transactions at the Law School, Yorkside and Wall Street Pizza.” Well, it turns out that Yale Dining paid for food and supplies based on an assumption that, according to the Yale Daily News, “meal plan holders would eat every meal in a dining hall.”

This stubborn and out-of-touch-with-the-real-world assumption, rather than those swipes, is the true cause of loss, for any sensible manager knows how critical it is to match supply with demand. And there’s an easy way to improve that assumption: A simple look at the number and frequency of swipe transfers at the Law School and other dining venues can give Yale Dining a better idea of the accurate amount of food to purchase.

With student information stored in every single swipe, it should not be too difficult to figure out the demographic and general pattern of the swipe transfers. Perhaps Yale Dining could not afford McKinsey. If that’s the case, maybe we should hire the cheaper alternative Maya (yes, our very own student consulting group) to do the data mining?

I sincerely wish Yale Dining’s initiatives every success, and I do expect to see freshmen, with their legal excuse to savor the fine atmosphere at the Law School dining hall gone for good, become diehard fans of uncommon before long. But should that upbeat scenario fail to occur, I have yet another truly uncommon option to propose.

Maybe, just maybe, we student bartenders will volunteer to reduce our $16.16 per hour pay by 33 percent. Seriously, that job, at least to me, was way too painless compared to that sleep-depriving, seizure-inducing $16.16 per hour i-banking summer internship (my calculation based on industry-standard working hours). As the old saying goes: no pain, no gain.

And trust me, as a loyal senior hopelessly in love with Yale, your humble correspondent is ready to make that sacrifice.

Robert Li is a senior in Ezra Stiles College.

Correction: The Opinion column “Uncommon, nonsensical solutions” incorrectly asserted that Yale Dining recently fired two employees. Two positions at the Law School dining hall were indeed eliminated, but those employees have been reassigned to other dining facilities.

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