Budgeting practices of campus bars

Deficits are common, but for different reasons

Student bars are an important part of campus life for many students. However, in recent years it seems student bars are no longer consistently turning a profit.

The Grawood is the student owned and operated bar found in the Student Union Building. It’s managed by the DSU and is currently running a $10,200 deficit on its bar services for the 2018-2019 budget.  

According to the DSU budget glossary, a deficit is a “financial shortage where expenses exceed revenues,” in other words, the money is flowing out of the Grawood. 

Chantel Khoury is vice president of finance and operations for the DSU. Khoury said the Grawood only makes money from events. Societies can host events, request bar services and buy the alcohol from the Grawood, but a society responsible for finding its own labour to run the event. 

Khoury said there are ways to lessen the deficit by increasing the prices of food and alcohol, but their “main priority is just bringing students into our bar, knowing that our staff is trained with anti-oppression training and disclosure training. The safety of the students is the number one priority. We could increase the prices, but we know attendance would decrease.”  

The Grawood is restricted by Dalhousie’s alcohol policy. Under the university’s alcohol policy, advertising alcohol pricing is completely banned. The policy guidelines also restrict imagery of alcohol, people drinking or alcohol branding.  

According to Khoury, “St. Patty’s day used to bring in a lot of folks, it used to be like a pretty –– not going to lie –– messy event, but at the same time it brought in a lot of money,” she said. “With the new alcohol policy, we are not allowed to accept a whole lot of sponsorship from alcohol companies anymore and we have definitely lost a lot of opportunities there. We are very restricted.”  

Greg Wright is the current DSU bar manager, meaning he holds the alcohol licence for the whole university, including the Grawood and the T-Room over on Dal’s Sexton campus. He’s trying to lobby the university to change their policy, so they can advertise their prices to students.  

Khoury recognizes that keeping prices low can result in losing money, but the trade-off benefits students.  

“I wouldn’t say that it is a purposeful thing that we run the deficit, but we definitely acknowledge that we can absorb the cost elsewhere and it is still bringing students in at more accessible pricing.” 

She said the Grawood used to make money in early 2000; since then, decreasing revenues have been a pattern among campus bars all over the country. Balancing student attendance, cheap beer and profits is done differently between schools.  

Some Canadian campus bars are running deficits over $100 000. 

More money for beer” by Josh Dehaas in Maclean’s

The main campus bar at Saint Mary’s University, the Gorsebrook Lounge, runs a deficit of $15,000 according to SMU Student Association budget for the 2016-2017 year, about four thousand more than the Grawood. SMU’s alcohol policy doesn’t restrict alcohol advertising or the portrayal of people drinking, under the condition that these ads are only outside of the bar itself. 

An interview with SMUSA was arranged but cancelled; no further comment was provided. 

The University of King’s College bar is the Wardroom. Jennifer Nowoselski is the hospitality coordinator for the King’s Student Union and oversees the finances of the establishment. She says the Wardroom isn’t making a profit, but they aren’t losing money either.  

“We carefully adjust our prices to be as accessible as possible for our membership, since we are first and foremost a service of the King’s student union. Our model would be related to a non-profit, we are set up to break even so that we can be financially sustainable without profiting from students,” says Nowoselski. 

Campus bars in Halifax have different approaches to their budgeting, but they all claim to be keeping students in mind.  

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