While Mercer’s Fresh Food Company is always convenient and often delicious, it is not always the most economically sound option for breakfast, lunch or supper. I know I can’t be the only person who has ever walked into the Caf, done the hopeful lap around the room, sighed and trudged over to the salad bar. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an assault on the cafeteria food. I have gained a much greater appreciation for the ease of spooning already-cooked rice onto a plate that I don’t have to wash myself since I moved into an apartment off campus. I think the Caf is fantastic. But on the aforementioned days when I find nothing that jumps out at me and screams “Eat me!” I am forced to turn to one of the most expensive salads I’ve ever eaten. Or the most expensive bowl of Lucky Charms. You get the picture.
The price per meal in the Caf according to meal plans is as follows:
Unlimited = impossible to calculate
14 meal plan (14 meals per week) = $9.65 per meal
10 meal plan (10 meals per week) = $8.46 per meal
120 block plan (120 meals per semester) = $9.74 per meal
85 block plan (85 meals per semester) = $9.28 per meal
40 block plan (40 meals per semester) = $8.13 per meal
Please note that these calculations are regarding meals eaten in the cafeteria and do not take Dining Dollars into account. But still. Fourteen meals a week at $9.65 per meal comes out to $135.10 a week spent on food. I don’t know about everyone else, but I absolutely do not have that kind of money in my budget. And yes, the Caf is convenient, but so are restaurants. Again, I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with the Caf, but if you’re willing to spend almost $10 on a meal, you have other options.
Steak ‘n Shake
Steak ‘n Shake has four meals for under $4. They’re pretty sneaky about it, as the meals cost $3.99, but they’re still a deal in my book. All of them involve steak burgers and fries. You can even get a triple steak burger for this price! You can get a steak burger with cheese and bacon! And, hell, you can even add cheese to your fries and still come out under $5. Even if you decide to go crazy and get a soda, your total will still come out to less than or equal to the price of a Caf meal.
Taco Bell is so cheap, you could basically order the entire menu and still pay less than you would for the Caf. I exaggerate, obviously. But the prices at Taco Bell allow you to eat an enormous amount of food for $5 (See: $5 box deal). Sure, Taco Bell isn’t the most nutritious food (Anyone who watched Stephen Colbert last week learned that their beef is only 35 percent pure ground beef. Yikes.), but we’re looking for cheap food here, so we can’t be too picky.
Basically any fast food restaurant
I got a little carried away and had to list my two favorites, but unless you go crazy, you can eat at pretty much any fast food joint for less than the prices listed above. Drink included.
Yes, you can even eat at a sit-down restaurant for less! Olive Garden has a $6.99 lunch special where the customer gets unlimited breadsticks, salad and soup of their choice. Unlimited, I say!
Both of the restaurants in Mercer Village offer affordable, delicious food, and you’re supporting the local economy and College Hill Corridor! Plus, you’re bound to run into people that you know at these places, which is one of the benefits of the Caf (or drawback, depending on your mood/state of personal cleanliness that day).
Cook your own food
For those of you who have a kitchen, buying your own food and cooking it is infinitely cheaper than both the Caf and restaurants. Plus you get a lot more for your dollar. The only drawback is that you have to clean up after yourself. For example, sandwich meat, lettuce, cheese, tortilla wraps and ranch dressing come out to around $10, give or take a buck or two. This is more than a meal in the Caf, yes, but with the ingredients bought at the grocery store, you can make at least 5 wraps, providing yourself lunch for a week. The same goes for pasta, rice, salad fixings and even frozen pizza.
Although there is nothing wrong with the Caf or its food, it cannot be denied that there are cheaper alternatives. The convenience of going into the Caf for a bite of lunch with friends between classes cannot be overlooked, but next time you head in there to get a cup of hot tea with one of your 85 meals for the semester remember, a container of Tazo tea costs around five bucks at Wal-Mart.