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What do the Bon Appétit employees do during break?

It’s the end of term, finals are over, and everyone is burnt out and ready to go home. But what happens to the workers here on campus after the students have left? How do the people who prepare and serve food everyday work with an empty campus? Are they paid during breaks?

In short, it’s complicated. Bon Appétit Management Company employs 85 full time employees, 20 part time employees, and 12 management staff for the food services here at Carleton College. One might wonder how this employment works given that school isn’t in session for almost 20 weeks out of the year, but in fact, it works extremely well.

“You probably can’t beat it,” said Troy Mechura, a staff member at Bon Appétit for the past 10 years. “You get time off in the summer when it’s nicest. I go up north every year with my family and get away; you can’t beat that.”

Despite the lure of having scheduled-in breaks throughout the year, strictly speaking, most of the food service workers are not employed by Bon Appétit during those breaks. In order to maintain a year-round income, workers need to rely on a combination of vacation hours, secondary jobs, and unemployment benefits.

“We get unemployment [benefits] because we’re laid off and then re-hired [after the break],” said Christopher Yurek, a Bon Appétit employee of four years. “You get something like $400 a week [from the state].”

The Carleton College Bon Appétit workers are one of the only unionized food industry groups in the area, which ensures that they are re-hired after each break and gives them the power to negotiate their living wage with their employer. In comparison, the Bon Appétit workers at St. Olaf College are not unionized.

“It’s kind of a seasonal job, because there are so many down times,” said Kimberly Driesch, a Dining Services Manager for Bon Appétit, “so we don’t fight any filings for unemployment. That’s how it is throughout all of our educational accounts in Bon Appétit.”

Seasonal employment can be a tough sell for a job, especially in a more pricey town like Northfield, but according to Yurek, Bon Appétit compensates their employees adequately to make the job worth it.

“It’s expensive to live in Northfield,” said Yurek, “because the two colleges don’t pay [income or property] taxes, so there’s less money in the tax pool and it raises it for everyone else. Northfield is also a historical town, so they don’t want anything to change — they don’t build affordable housing. But, if you work here, you can afford it.”

To supplement their annual income, there are also opportunities for the workers to continue their jobs sporadically throughout the summer by catering events that the school puts on.

“The people that have been here the longest in their classification — like cook, baker, grill cook, prep cook — get the first shot at taking hours during the breaks,” said Mike Hoover, a Bon Appétit worker at Carleton. “During the summer, I would say we keep a little less than 20 percent of the staff.”

Although it’s an unusually spaced out job, many of the workers here at Carleton take this unique work schedule as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

“It doesn’t work for everyone,” said Hoover, “and it takes a little while to build up vacation hours that at least pays your base bills. It also takes some budgeting, but for the right person, you can use that time to your advantage and do the things you want to do.”

For Hoover, the flexibility of the job allows him to raise and sell cattle throughout the year and take time in the summer to help his kids go to cattle shows and sell their own cows. For Mechura, the job allows him to have a farm with his wife and kids on the side. Still others take the time off to catch up with family and enjoy the Minnesota wilderness.

That being said, the Bon Appétit management at Carleton are trying to find more ways to give their employees work year round.

“We do try to give staff hours during the break periods,” said Katie McKenna, the General Manager for Bon Appétit at Carleton, and are working with the Director of Auxiliary Services to get more business on campus during the break periods; this will enable us to offer more hours to the team here on campus.”

One Comment

  1. Meg Meg January 20, 2020

    I really appreciate having a view into the lives of these hard working people. Like so many invisible workers, they struggle with their schedules to serve this very privileges and lucky group. I’m grateful that Carleton is working towards making their lives more affordable. Bravo.

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