Student Dining: Trinity’s Monopoly on Student Choice

Gordy Leech ’23

Contributing Writer

This is dedicated to Ed and Mimi, two Mather employees who truly care about how the Trinity students are being fed and have raised concerns over the current management of the Trinity College dining services. The purpose of this piece is to provide an idea as to why these problems exist.

A monopoly is a firm that controls the barriers to entry. When this is the case, new firms are prevented from entering the market, resulting in no competition, removing the incentive for innovation, price competition, and the incentive to better serve customers’ needs.

Currently, Trinity College has a monopoly over the dining options to students on campus. At the moment, students can walk through the streets of Hartford to pick up food, dine out, or call in Uber eats. However, those options aren’t viable for students for every meal at Trinity College, so we accept the notion that Trinity controls the barriers of entry to providing dining on campus to students.

One great thing about private firms is that they operate on balance sheets with profits and losses, not budgets. With profits and losses, private firms are able to determine what goods and services are popular among customers. Furthermore, firms are incentivized to direct more of their resources to provide their customers more of those goods, thus better serving them. When firms don’t need to turn a profit, they don’t have an incentive to provide more of a good in demand and better serve their customers. When looking at Soviet pharmacies, for example, they didn’t operate on a profit or loss and were often short on medication people demanded and oversupplied on ones that weren’t in high demand.

Another great thing about private firms is that they need to better serve the customer than their competitors. This is why gas companies don’t charge $50 per gallon, because the station across the street would charge $49 and steal all their business. When there is no competition, there is no incentive to reduce the price. Further, without competition, there’s no incentive to innovate. Unfortunately, Subaru doesn’t add extra safety to their vehicles because they want their customers to be safer, but because if their car is safer than a Ford, more people will want to buy a Subaru. Before other mail services were allowed to deliver mail, the US Postal Service didn’t have any incentive to provide tracking numbers or two-day shipping. In other words, they didn’t have to better serve the customers’ needs.

When looking at Trinity’s dining service, it suffers from all the problems noted above. In the days before the Cisco truck comes, Mather Hall is always short on foods that are in high demand. On Sunday, the all-day breakfast station was closed because they ran out of eggs, ham, and cheese. The grill had only six pieces of chicken left at 5:45 in the evening. There was a sign out for taco night, yet there were no tacos to be seen. There is no incentive to shorten waiting times, or to provide better food. The Cave charges you almost two dollars for a cup of off-brand ramen because they have no incentive to lower the price. The gas station across the street isn’t able to steal their business by selling gas for $49 a gallon because Trinity doesn’t let a firm set up across the street.

Of course, this is an unfortunate side effect of being a small school, and we may never see drastic changes like a private dining hall in the middle of campus. Parents will continue to be forced to give their kids dining dollars, and students will likely never be able to buy meals at a private diner. We must put more pressure on the school to have the dining halls pay attention to how their budget is run, but for now, writing a couple words for Ed and Mimi can be a good start.

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