Arizona Daily Wildcat November 10, 1997
Union suffers 'Big Mac attack'
Food sales at Student Union-operated restaurants plummeted almost 14 percent last week after an on-campus McDonald's opened Oct. 31, a Union official said.
Dining Services Director David Galbraith said combined sales at the restaurants, which include Louie's Lower Level and Fiddlee Fig, decreased an average of $4,116 per day from the week prior to the McDonald's opening.
"I don't want to panic and jump overboard after a week," Galbraith said of the low sales.
Despite a track record of sales declines during the course of a semester, Galbraith said last week's drop was "dramatically more than I would have expected had McDonald's not been here."
He added if McDonald's draws enough students away from Union-operated restaurants during the next three weeks, Union administrators will have to cut back restaurant hours and staff, which means fewer choices for diners.
According to Galbraith, it's normal for a disproportionate number of students to patronize a new franchise right when it opens. Three weeks is a reasonable amount of time for things to level off, he added
"There's a lot of people who hate McDonald's. There's a lot of people who hate the Fig," he said. "To go all one way would be a disaster."
Student Union McDonald's Store Manager Debbie Gorman would not disclose sales figures for the fast-food franchise's inaugural week on campus, saying only it "did really well."
Galbraith calculated the drop by comparing two three-day periods, one prior to the onset of McDonald's and one after.
Union-operated eateries made $89,570 and had 32,879 recorded transactions from Oct. 28 to Oct. 30. One week later, from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6, the same restaurants made $77,220 and had 28,934 transactions. All told - a decrease of $12,350 in sales and 3,945 in customer transactions.
Galbraith said dwindling sales during off-hours have already forced Student Union administrators to lay off 35 restaurant employees this year.
If things get much worse, he said, cutbacks in hours of operation are imminent.
"Labor cost at Union restaurants is currently 42 cents for every dollar spent," Galbraith said. "If they can't get it down to 35 cents, they cannot exist."
According to Galbraith, cutting labor costs will affect students who don't eat during peak hours, because a limited number of restaurants will stay open.
"Union restaurants will not close completely," he said. "They'll just cut back on hours."
Galbraith added that Taco Bell, while independently supplied, is staffed by Student Union employees and therefore qualifies as a Union-operated restaurant.
Galbraith admitted McDonald's is often cheaper because they have huge buying power and lower food costs.
As an example, he noted Louie's Lower Level changed the focus of its menu at the beginning of the semester because its management anticipated losing to the new competition in the burgers-and-fries arena.
However, while Union-operated restaurants may not be able to compete with McDonald's prices, Galbraith said they offer students other advantages.
"McDonald's is a corporation with stockholders," he said.
"The UA students are our stockholders. We take the money and pump it back into the Union, where it goes to support student functions."
Chemical engineering freshman Rick Kupferer said he used to eat at the Fig about once a week but probably won't anymore now that McDonald's is open.
"It's expensive and it's poor quality," Kupferer said of the cafeteria-style Student Union eatery.
Mathematics sophomore Daniel Griswold said while he loves the food and prices at McDonald's, he still sees the need for variety in the Student Union.
"There are still going to be people who want something other than this type of food," he said.
Galbraith said he thinks students should have the final say on what kind of food is served in the Student Union.
"Our job is to give students what they want. Clearly they've responded in a healthy manner to McDonald's," he said.
Louie's Lower Level
The "A" Place
Union Square Cafe