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The Commons; student dissatisfaction and big profits

The commons' "Here for the Food" mural, featuring SU's mascot Sammy. Image courtesy of Colin McEvers.

Salisbury University students are increasingly concerned about the quality of food being served in the Commons Dining Hall. Despite SU Dining Services pulling in higher profits than other universities in Maryland, the commons’ meals are unsatisfactory to many within the community.

Students with meal plans can eat on campus at the Commons Dining Hall. The dining plan options available to students include dining hall passes, dining dollars and guest passes. Dining dollars can be used at any of the on-campus restaurants.

The layout of this plan is convenient for students as they can spend their prepaid money to dine at different locations on campus. The cafes on campus are spread out in a way that makes it easy to find something to eat, even if students have classes in a building far from the dining hall.

The quality of the food served in the commons has been the topic of many complaints from parents and students since the school year began.

K. Armand, an SU junior majoring in Health Science, is particularly concerned with eating food which has been unintentionally mixed with potential allergens.

“I am afraid of eating anything because of cross contamination,” Armand said. “I feel scared of accidentally eating something that will trigger my allergies, especially when I'm not exactly sure what's in them in the first place.”

“Sometimes the food is being served on top of other foods… and the food drips."

For people with dietary restrictions, Salisbury University has a dietician who supposedly provides meal alternatives and options. Students are required to schedule an appointment and meeting, even if their dietary restrictions are as straightforward as being vegetarian.

For individuals who have dietary restrictions, life can be challenging. The Salisbury University Dining website tends to be inaccurate about what is on the menu.

Lauryn Dennis, an SU sophomore majoring in Political Science, notices frequent inconcsistencies with what is advertised on the online dining menu and what is actually being served in the commons, making it difficult to plan ahead. Dennis has also had experiences with poor quality food.

Entrance to the commons "Marketplace", which is where food is dished out to students. Image courtesy of Colin McEvers.

“The food quality has definitely decreased since last year; I have gotten bread that has mold growing on it recently and that should not be happening,” she said. “My biggest concern, however, is that I ask the employees if a certain food contains things I can’t eat due to intolerances.”

“They have no idea what’s even in it, which leads to severe social anxiety and uncomfortable wait times.”

Some students have difficulties finding accommodations for their allergies. Idris Kaka, an SU senior majoring in Business Marketing & Graphic Design, has faced hurdles due to his allergies.

“I remember asking them to make me a special meal with dairy free cheese,” Kaka said. “One time, it was fine, but [another] time, they put in regular cheese,”

“I've also had a couple of allergic reactions from commons, I've had to use my EpiPen twice.”

No dining hall is completely free from contamination, but the aforementioned incidents raise persisting concerns in the community regarding potential student illnesses.

What is the cause of these problems? Is it the staff, the food or just the manner in which dining halls operate?

According to the Salisbury University Budget Report for 2022, SU spends approximately $9 million on dining expenses.

Consideration of how much SU is spending requires an inquiry into how much money the institution is making from dining services.

Salisbury's dining services revenue is profitable by roughly 25%. Salisbury University's own budget report indicates that this money is not being spent on dining. According to the report, the cost of dining in 2023 is expected to be only $9,801,929. The increase in dining expenses from 2022 to 2023 is less than $1 million. Meaning there is roughly $3 million that is going somewhere other than back into the dining program.

To put the profitability of the Salisbury University dining program into perspective, the budget, expenses and revenue of four Maryland university dining programs have been analyzed and compared to that of SU.

The figures above show the revenues and expenses of the universities in this study for dining services. Graphic courtesy of Zoe Clarke.

This chart shows the net money made by the dining programs after subtracting the expenses from revenues. Most colleges make a considerable profit, with the exception of UMD Eastern Shore and UMD College Park. Graphic courtesy of Zoe Clarke.

The two graphs above compare the revenue, expenses and profit of the institutions used in the study, including SU, which is evidently profiting from dining services in a manner similar to that of Towson University and UMD Baltimore County.

This table calculates the overall percentages of income from the revenue and profits which are made from the dining programs of these five institutions. Graphic courtesy of Zoe Clarke.

This table displays the the numbers adjusted for the amount of profit or loss per student for the dining programs. Graphic courtesy of Zoe Clarke.

These tables show that SU is profiting a lot more than other colleges. Despite large differences in other percentages, TU and UMBC are actually making similar amounts in net revenues per student. UMD College Park, on the other hand, is losing money.

To put it into perspective, Salibury University's profit per student is more than that of TU and UMBC combined.

More per student than both of those colleges, and yet still moldy bread persists.

It's difficult to determine who the blame lies with. The commons staff are occasionally the target of criticism when students or parents become frustrated with the quality of the food, yet the lack of money being redirected to dining services is likely a root cause of the prevailing issue.

The upper-staff at commons are seemingly handling the dining program in an effective manner, as detailed in a recent article on The Flyer. Those in charge of dining services, like Director of Dining Services Owen Rosten, have put in work to make the commons a place where students are properly fed. These efforts should not be disregarded.

There have been student-led efforts in SU to address the problems associated with the commons. The Student Government Association (SGA) has made a committee on improving the dining experience for students. Their aim is to make dining at Salisbury safer and more accessible.

The SGA also recently passed legislation advocating for a separate area in the commons for vegan and vegetarian foods. No action has been taken on that legislation at the moment, but updates will be provided as the process continues.

Most importantly, students hope to have food that is high quality and which healthily accommodates their dietary restrictions. Many SU students are hopeful that, as time progresses, the university will find more ways to effectively achieve this goal.


Students Population per College, MD:



Staff writer

Contributor: COLIN McEVERS

Featured image courtesy of COLIN McEVERS

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