Veggie Grill: Getting Grilled on Ending Student Discount

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With documentaries revealing the harmful effects of the food industry on the rise, veganism has gained popularity. Especially for college-aged students, people are more aware of the health and environmental concerns associated with eating meat and other animal products, which contribute to heart disease, unwanted hormones, and the rise of global warming. That’s why corporations such as Veggie Grill, a casual fast-food restaurant with an entirely animal product-free menu, are such a popular choice for college students. It makes eating meat-free easy, relatively cheap, and convenient for a lifestyle that many other restaurant chains can’t provide.

However, at our own location of Veggie Grill at UTC, eating vegan just got pricier for students. A long-time student discount was just revoked at the end of September. Whereas a typical entrée item ran for at least $10 (not including an extra charge for sweet potato fries, which are almost an essential since they’re so delicious), the discount gave certified students an entrée and a drink for $8.62. That is about a $13 value, so students were actually saving a substantial amount of money with this discount. It was clear to me that when this discount was revoked, it was because Veggie Grill noticed how much money it was losing.

This turned out to be exactly the case. A worker at UTC’s Veggie Grill, who has been employed there for about a year and wished to remain anonymous, said that it was simply a situation of losing too much money. At a campus location, where such a large percentage of customers are students, practically no one was paying face-value for their meals, and by corporation standards, this wasn’t acceptable. But with so many loyal customers at their branch, and the promise of returning money, why did Veggie Grill have to completely revoke a student discount?

They may have realized that, as a chain exclusive to vegan foods, they are a niche that nobody else in the UTC area is fulfilling. This gives them some control. Vegan students don’t have many options on campus when it comes to getting a quick and delicious meal. The convenience of having a restaurant catering to your dietary needs makes it popular and hard to replace. I think Veggie Grill knew that even if it took away the discount, students would still be forced to eat there out of necessity. They knew they could keep their loyal customers and make even more money still.

This is probably a similar reason that other restaurants in UTC don’t offer a student discount. The closeness to campus guarantees a huge percentage of people taking advantage of it. Even if they don’t offer a discount to students, students will come simply because it is the most convenient option. Many don’t have cars to easily go somewhere else. In the end, they’d be charging less for customers who will most likely still come if they charged more. And in the corporate world, that just isn’t smart business.

But, to make up for a lack of a discount, Veggie Grill and other UTC restaurants have unveiled a “points” system for anybody to use. The more you spend, the more points you can rack up that will add up to a free drink or, eventually, a free meal. I know similar companies such as Tender Greens in UTC have done the same thing. While there is no discount, there is an incentive to buy more so you will “earn” something free in the end, seemingly making your money worth it. However, to students, this doesn’t seem to be completely satisfying their idea of a “good deal” that would actually save them a substantial amount of money.

However, in the corporate world, I think substantially good deals like the previous student discount at Veggie Grill are hard to find. In most cases, if consumers feel they are saving a lot of money, the corporation definitely feels like they are losing money. As veganism becomes more popular, perhaps new locations of vegan restaurants will come to UTC and give Veggie Grill some competition and incentive to lower their prices. But for now, Veggie Grill still controls the vegan market at UCI, and you can bet that they know this.

Claire Harvey is a third year literary journalism major. She can be reached at cpharvey@uci.edu

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