Student Senate Organizes Protest Against Bon Appétit’s Monopoly on Campus
Today ASUSF Senate is hosting a boycott of the Bon Appétit dining services at USF. At the time this issue went to print, there were 930 people committed to a Facebook event that calls on students to forgo using Bon Appétit services on Thursday.
“Bon Appétit has been the number one concern since I was sophomore class representative,” said ASU President, Johnny Chibnall, “We tried addressing it by creating a food committee, and there were conversations going on within the committee but no action happened with it.”
Bonnie Azab Powell, Director of Communications at Bon Appétit Management Company, said that student food advisory committee will be reinstated and will meet regularly throughout the semester. Powell also addressed the concern’s about Bon Appétit monopoly on campus, saying “while yes, we are the only food service provider at USF — which is the standard at 95% of college campuses that use food-service providers — we are well aware that we have to compete with everything a world-class food destination like San Francisco has to offer.”
Charlie Cross, Vice President of the Office of Accounting & Business Services and Chief Financial Officer of USF wasn’t available for a sit-down or phone interview, but over email he said that he wasn’t aware of any criticism or complaints students had of Bon Appétit.
Chibnall said that Senate would like to see Bon Appetit do a better job at food labeling and allergens, and improve food safety, extend hours during holidays and weekends, a reduction or justification for campus catering, and increased communication and transparency between USF, Bon Appétit, and the students.
“This is a very peaceful assembly. We want to build awareness,” Chibnall added.
The most recent cause for concern has been the removal of the subsidy provided to USF campus organizations for catering services. According to Gregory V. Wolcott, Assistant Vice Provost of Student Leadership and Engagement (SLE), two years ago there was a 50% discount in place for student organizations, and last year it was reduced to 25%.
“This year we were notified there would no longer be a flat discount, but that Bon Appétit would develop a value menu to help offset costs to student organizations. The subsidy was originally approved by Accounting & Business Services at cost to the university, whereas the value menu would be provided by Bon Appétit,” Wolcott added.
“After careful financial analysis, Accounting & Business Services could no longer subsidize those discounts,” said Anne-Marie Devine, USF senior director of media relations.
The spark for this boycott came from the most recent ASUSF Fall Summit, in which the top two leaders from every student organization on campus are required to attend, when concerns about Bon Appétit were at the forefront of almost every discussion.
“The entire conversation turned to Bon Appétit,” said Taylor Jackson, senior class representative who spearheaded the boycott. “The students felt like they weren’t being heard, and their needs weren’t being addressed.”
Bon Appétit is Planning Changes
According to Cross, Bon Appétit has come up with a number of initiatives that are currently underway —including an attempt to resurrect the student food committee, an online survey, a 25% discount for student group catering events, a daily value special in the cafeteria, and expanded training of cashiers to reduce transaction time and lines. Bon Appétit Management Company has confirmed this.
USF’s contract with Bon Appétit has been in place since 2004, and will be in place for “at least 15 additional years,” said Cross.
According to Wolcott, Bon Appétit has always had exclusive rights to provide food service on campus, but that policy wasn’t being strictly enforced. In August, Events Management & Guest Services provided SLE with guidelines that stated the policies that clubs had to follow for meetings, events, and fundraisers.
Previously, requests for off-campus food service came to Bon Appétit directly and were approved on a case-by-case basis. However, Powell said that last year USF reorganized to have Events Management and Guest Services handle those requests. Foghorn calls to Events Management and Guest Services were directed to the USF Media Relations office.
“It’s a lot cheaper if we make tamales ourselves or get them from an off-campus source,” said Latinas Unidas Student Organization President Elizabeth Hernandez. “Under these new restrictions, we can’t afford as much food as we used to be able to for our events. At our last event some members of our organization didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough.”
According to Jackson, there have been complaints from students ranging from the handling of food in the cafeteria to the quality of it. According to an inspection conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health on April 17, Market Café received a violation of “High risk food holding temperature” and moderate risk of “Foods not protected from contamination.” However, both these violations were later corrected on May 17.
In addition to the boycott, Jackson has opened an email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, for students to submit complaints and stories about their experience with Bon Appétit. Also, instead of the regularly scheduled Senate meeting next Tuesday, there will be an open forum where Bon Appétit officials, members of the Office of Accounting & Business Services, and students will be able to talk about their issues with the food management company.
Students Have Mixed Feelings About Boycott
“I feel like it was kind of about time something happened because Bon App has turned into a sort of monopoly instead of a catering company,” said sophomore Phelan resident, Stephanie Ortiz, “They ridiculously overprice everything and the prices increased from last year.”
Jessica Melendez, President of MEChA de USF said, “I thought [the boycott] is great! I had been hearing a lot of people having issues with Bon Appétit this semester, so I felt it was great that we were getting into action to do something about it.”
Other students criticized the boycott.
Morganne Dodds, former Bon Appétit employee and current senior, noted that high prices are a result of the local and sustainable food options, and any request for longer hours puts a strain on employees who already work long hours.
“As a student who dines at Bon Appétit,” said Dodds, “I actually really enjoy their food. It has definitely improved since my freshman year and more of a variety has been brought in.”
Bon Appétit chefs can cook anything, but is it authentic?
“The university holds diversity to such high standards, and advertises how diverse the campus is, and this policy doesn’t reflect that,” Hernandez said. “Food is the part of a culture we can share. Not being able to share that takes away part of what makes us unique.”
Hernandez says that members of student organizations aren’t happy with the authenticity of the food, and the monopoly Bon Appétit holds on campus catering is making fundraising difficult.
Wolcott said, “A majority of fundraising done by student organizations has not been impacted. However, those groups who sold external or home cooked food (outside of bake sales) are no longer able to do so.”
When a Foghorn reporter asked Hernandez if she has tried bringing her own recipes to the Bon Appétit chefs to help with the authenticity problem, she replied: “I have heard of that, but I mean, our grandmas could make it for free.”
ASUSF Senate has written an open letter about Bon Appetit to Charlie Cross in the Opinion section.