On Wednesday, October 9, randomly selected students were invited to join focus groups evaluating Bon Appétit’s food services. These focus groups are part of a larger evaluative initiative, conducted in anticipation of Bon Appétit’s contract renewal. Bon Appétit’s contract is considered for renewal every two years.
According to Jesse Cashman, Director of Auxiliary Services and Special Projects, “Nine focus groups of students, faculty and staff were scheduled. The focus groups were selected randomly with the assistance of Institutional research and the Dean of Students office.”
Along with randomly selected participants, Cashman said that “other campus groups, such as CSA representatives, were invited to participate as availability allowed.”
Bon Appétit General Manager Katie McKenna said that “The goal for focus groups was to solicit a deeper understanding of the ‘voice of the campus.’ The structure was meant to foster an environment of open communication in a neutral setting to get another form of feedback. This type of dialog can give us a deeper understanding of and insight into students’ current wants, needs, and priority points.”
Focus group attendance was incentivized with a $5 Sayles Café coupon. Despite this incentive, student turnout was lower than desired. “While we were hoping that all of the sessions would have been filled to capacity—a goal we fell a bit short of—those who participated provided a vast wealth of information,” said McKenna.
Cashman said that “Each of the nine focus groups had 5-15 participants.” Maximum focus group capacity was set at 20 participants.
Feedback received in focus groups will be used to develop an all-campus survey, scheduled for distribution from mid November to the end of December 2019. Cashman said that “Results from this survey will be collected, plotted, analyzed, and used to create an Action Plan” for improved service.
According to McKenna, Bon Appétit regularly solicits feedback for improvement. “We have discussions with any number of department representatives on a quarterly, monthly, sometimes even weekly basis to make sure that what we’re doing continues to serve the ever-changing wants and needs of Carleton’s very diverse population,” said McKenna. Bon Appétit also “receives feedback from students, faculty, and staff via our comment card areas in the cafés, our website, the dining committees, and directly from face-to-face interactions between our staff and guests during our ‘office hours’ or just on the floor of the café,” and incorporates feedback accordingly.
“While some of our changes, like adding Halal meats, peanut-free stations, and digital signage are immediately noticeable to the population we serve, many other changes are less visible,” continued McKenna. “As mentioned before, we are constantly working to evolve our program to be more efficient, effective and to better meet the needs of the Carleton community.”
Bon Appétit regularly collaborates with Swipe Out Hunger, a nationwide, not-for-profit organization that partners with Carleton to help end food insecurity on campus. Andrew Farias ’21, a Program Director for the Swipe Out Hunger initiative on campus, said that “we are satisfied with the communication that occurs between Swipe Out Hunger and Bon Appétit. We regularly reach out to Bon Appetit staff to plan the dates that Swipe Out Hunger will occur and publicize the event in the dining halls. Most recently, we were happy to coordinate for students to donate any one meal seventh week rather than previously only being able to donate their seventh Friday lunch meal swipe.”
“However, one thing that we would like to see improved is the portion of each meal swipe that is donated by students,” continued Farias. “As of right now, only $2.20 of each meal swipe is donated when students sign-up to Swipe Out Hunger, which is a fraction of what a meal swipe is. I see this contract renewal as an opportunity for Bon Appétit to reaffirm their support of students experiencing food insecurity at Carleton by increasing the amount of each meal swipe that is donated or even better, allowing for students to donate multiple meal swipes each term.”
Naseem Dillman-Hasso ’20 agreed with Farias. “Generally speaking, I am satisfied with Bon Appétit’s service,” Dillman-Hasso said.
“I appreciate how much work they put into trying to source things locally when possible, reduce food waste, and make sure that everybody from most dietary restrictions and preferences has at least something they can eat for any meal at a dining hall or cafe.”
“That being said,” continued Dillman-Hasso, “there are a lot of frustrating things that seem pretty easy to fix. I have noticed frequently over this term that often allergens are mislabeled.
“For instance, there was recently a dish that had chicken in it at LDC that was called ‘vegan.’ While this was a pretty easy fix, and was adjusted within a few minutes, it seems like a mistake that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. And even if that one was caught, I wonder how many things have been mislabeled that aren’t obvious, and because of that, someone eats something that they are either allergic to, or are morally, culturally, or religiously opposed to eating.”
“I acknowledge how hard it is for a food service company to try to appease thousands of people at once, but some things are more unacceptable,” continued Dillman-Hasso.
Dillman-Hasso also discussed consequences of a more recent Bon Appétit initiative: labelling food with calorie counts in Sayles and the Weitz Cafe.
“Having calorie counts in Sayles and the Weitz Café seems rather counterproductive,” Dillman-Hasso said. “Calorie intakes differ for everyone, and are dependent on so many different things. Perpetuating the idea that a 2,000 daily calorie diet is ‘right’ or ‘healthy’ is flat-out wrong, and also can act as a trigger for individuals who struggle with eating-related anxieties.”
When asked about the inclusion of calorie counts in these eating venues, McKenna said that “Federal legislation now requires that items served in the same way more than 60 days in a year by a company our size must carry nutrition labeling. We have found that many of our guests welcome this information.”
“Our goal is always to grow and evolve to better meet the changing needs of the student body and overall campus population,” said McKenna. “Should the contract be renewed, which is our expectation, there may be some changes to our service model as a result of the information we have gathered during this process,” McKenna continued. “But, as always, we will make any adjustments in careful consideration of their effect on our staff, the student body, and the overall campus population.”