As the fall semester comes to an end, some students will face the reoccurring challenge of making sure their meal plans stay on budget, while others may have abundant funds roll onto their flexi account next semester.
Yet, students may have had other concerns regarding campus dining that may also extend to the spring.
Some questions may include what happens to the funds forfeited at the end of the spring semester and how much funds are collected each year? Why does everyone have the same flexi plan when students have different eating habits? Why are the prices on campus higher than other surrounding food establishments?
In September, Foghorn staff writer Sascha Rosemond reported on the combativeness of Bon Appétit General Manager, Holly Winslow and her efforts to develop sustainable initiatives while offering affordable food. That article addressed the complexity of the market’s cyclical patterns and its impact on the high costs of purchasing local farm foods.
But what about the non-organic products?
In an attempt to update students on matters pertaining to the cost of Bon Appétit foods, the Foghorn did a price comparison between products sold by Bon Appétit and nearby grocery store Lucky. The price comparison was not conclusive because findings showed there were price inconsistencies among particular items at Bon Appétit’s campus establishments.
One item for example was a box of Frosted Flakes. Bon Appétit café, Outtahere, sells it for $6.50 while the cafeteria located upstairs sells it for $7.00.
In an interview with General Manager Holly Winslow and Director of Operations Heather Ogg, Winslow chose not to comment on the price difference. However, there was a response for Lucky’s price, which was $4.49.
Ogg said, “Yes! Prices are really driven by the market…The cost of bringing in certain items is definitely going to be different to what a grocery store would be because of the volume they are selling the items for.”
She added, “Bon Appétit vendors send us a new price list each time we make an order. And we dictate our prices by what it costs us to purchase items.”
When asked who Bon Appétit’s vendors are, Ogg didn’t specify names.
With regards to updates Bon Appétit has made, Winslow said Bon Appétit has started accepting cash again at 13 of the 14 registers in the cafeteria since August.
“Cash is the new black, and I’ve brought cash back,” Winslow said.
Winslow added she has also taken steps to help students budget their flexi accounts.
Recognizing that Dons dollars and flexi can cause students to lose track of how much money they actually spend, Winslow has created 8×11 inch budget posters and displayed them around the cafeteria. The posters outline how much flexi students should have during their final weeks of the semester.
When asked about the ways flexi resembles the use of debit cards in our plastic money culture, Winslow said she thinks the current meal plan is “simple” and “streamlined” since in her opinion the plan is easy to understand.
“Here’s pretty much a debit card, and we are asking students to learn how to manage their money,” Winslow said.
Yet not all students eat as much or as little as their Flexi plan allows.
“The conversations are certainly happening with parents and students, such as my daughter doesn’t eat like an athlete yet their meal plans are the same. I would be lying if I said these conversations were not happening, they certainly are,” Winslow said.
Ogg added, “Although these conversations are happening they are not at the level to where we need to make changes to the program.”
Yet Winslow said, “The continual look at meal plans has been evolving since I’ve been at USF for the past five years, and the possibility of it evolving again is something that could definitely happen again.”
When asked if any student complaints have been brought to Winslow’s attention, she said only comments regarding hours of operation and cleanness have been reported.
In regards of there being outlets for students to address their concerns, Winslow said, “There are ‘Tell the Chief’ comment cards, but they’re not out right now.” She didn’t mention when comment cards will be out again for students.
Ogg however, said she feels dining services is quick to respond to any concerns that come up. She added Bon Appétit has an open door policy. Student comments are always welcome.
According to Winslow, the current meal plan will be assessed in January.
Bon Appétit, however, presents a business progress report to the Board of Trustees every year. It is during this time that Bon Appétit also proposes new initiatives to the Vice President for the Division of Business & Finance, Charles E. Cross.
Cross oversees Bon Appétit’s operations.
When asked how much money is forfeited when students don’t use all of their meal plan money at the end of the spring semester, Winslow said, “It changes every year, and when students read the word forfeited, Bon Appétit doesn’t get to keep the money. The only money we get is when students purchase at the register.”
She added, “When there is money left over the university keeps the remaining, which is not very much, and the university typically uses the money for construction or food services.”
During a phone interview with Charles E. Cross he said the estimated amount collected from students that forfeit their meal plans each year is $80,000. Cross said funds are used to improve dining services, such as ovens, refrigerators, and other needed structural improvements.
When asked about student’s limitations in choosing the amount of their flexi accounts Cross said, “When we had multiple types of meal plans we had them changed because students were getting penalized too often, so we decided to find a low base rate and use a streamline meal plan.”
When asked what concerns Cross had heard the most, he said most comments are about Bon Appétit’s high prices and short hours of operation. Cross said he was also open to student proposals, but he suggested students remember Bon Appétit is a business that seeks to make a profit on the services they provide.
Last week, Bon Appétit’s Holly Winslow, Executive Chef, Jon Hall, and Café Manager, Blanca Garcia reported to ASUSF Senate on several student concerns, among them operation hours.
For example, reasons for not making Outtahere open 24 hours, a promise made two years ago was one of the inquiries addressed.
Winslow and Garcia both responded, explaining that it is a liability issue due to safety concerns of student’s late night behavior. Such behavior included students throwing up when seeking food late at night. Other concerns included hiring employees that would work night shifts and having sufficient late night customers.
When asked how campus security has been helping, Winslow said, “Our public safety has been amazing. A couple things they have implemented, so we have been collaborating by getting panic buttons and the automatic lock doors have really helped too, and another is they have been frequently checking in with us every hour.”
Winslow added that the enhanced security could help with the future development of having a 24 hour food service.
Winslow also asked senators to brainstorm a business approach that would explore whether it is cost effective to have more night hours.
During the interview with Winslow and Ogg both pointed out the inconsistency of the cafeteria’s operation during each semester, and mentioned the challenges of operating roughly 20 weeks this semester. Bon Appétit was closed Thanksgiving Day and they will be closed for six weeks during winter break.
Shortage in hours is a concern for many students and some are looking for ways to use their flexi off campus.
Freshman Christina Nguyen, a student sitting in the audience, suggested the possibility of using flexi at local businesses. “This possibility might be favorable for businesses considering they will get more business, and this might make the cafeteria more appetizing because we don’t always have to eat at the cafeteria but we will always have that option,” Nguyen said.
Ideas of forming a student food committee that can sit down with Bon Appétit and the University to discuss student’s concerns was also proposed during the senate meeting.
ASUSF President, Lexington Wochner said in a private interview, “I think ultimately what needs to happen is we need to have clearer channels of communication. I think the food committee is a good starting point, so students can get the information they need to make responsible decisions for themselves.” He added, “ I think students need to know they can advocate for their meal plans, but ultimately what needs to happen is students need to be empowered to help make responsible choices… once information is out there it is on the responsibility of the student to take the information and make conscious decisions.”