Review of Bon Appétit

In September, The Echo commissioned an online poll which asked returning students how they felt about the changes to dining services under the direction of Bon Appétit. In December, The Echo reached out to the same group of students in a follow-up poll. 57% of respondents felt that the food quality has improved under Bon Appétit’s management, representing a drop of 22 points from the September poll. 44% of respondents believe that food quality has diminished since September while 14% believe that food quality has improved. 42% believe that the quality of food has remained the same. More than half of the students who listed Bobs as their favorite dining hall felt that food quality has suffered whereas only 25% of Foss enthusiasts believe that food quality has reduced. In fact, many students have praised Foss’s “fresh” and “healthy” preparation techniques. But some students suggest that Bon Appétit bring back some of the popular Foss options including salad bowls “Other” Conversely, several students commented that Roberts dining hall rarely features “plain protein options” or “healthy alternatives to pizza.” Yet many students prefer “the set-up, food options, and the ambiance at Bobs” said Ben Freeland ’20. Students who list Dana as their favorite dining hall are evenly divided on the question of satisfaction. Many students seem to have a mixed reaction. “Dana has plenty of choices during regular meal hours but between 2 and 5pm, options are extremely limited. [Last year], Dana offered Philly Cheese Steak, Hamburgers and other made-to-order foods on the grill” commented Boom Jiruppabha ’19.

Bon Appétit District Manager Kelly McDonald issued a statement to the Echo in response to the poll: “Colby Dining’s focus is to offer a robust range of proteins, with an emphasis on healthy options such as chicken, seafood, and plant-based proteins. General Manager Marietta Lamarre and Executive Chef Jim Lachance are constantly monitoring the menu mix and variety in all the halls. We seek student feedback constantly and use it to guide our iterations of the dining program. The Student Dining Advisory Committee, which is spearheaded by students and whose agenda is set by students, has met twice so far and it will meet next week.” McDonald added “We always try to address the committee’s feedback quickly. We’re working on our own end-of-the-semester survey to determine student satisfaction and garner student feedback for changes for the spring semester. In December, we have planned student food committee meetings to address dining hall specific menu and special events ideas which all students are invited to attend.” McDonald outlined several changes that have already been implemented including: “Offering house-made bread at dinner in all dining halls, adding Greek yogurt to all salad bars, and increasing cereal varieties.” Bon Appétit will also be adding a Bagel Mainea bagel bar in Dana as well as hosting several themed events including: Donut Day and Holiday Cookie Decoration.

In an interview with the Echo Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Doug Terp expressed his admiration and respect for the work that has been accomplished by Bon Appétit “Sodexo was here for 50 years and in less than 90 days notice Bon Appétit came in and took over three dining halls and over 100 employees. That’s a pretty big change process.” In addition, Bon Appetit still has several open job opportunities that need to be filled. Terp mentioned that it is somewhat costly for a college as small as Colby to have three fully functioning dining halls. In addition, “It is a struggle to find qualified candidates to work in the dining halls” Terp explained. While the operation of three separate dining halls presents some challenges, Colby students “tell us again and again [that it is very important].” Despite these challenges, Terp expressed that overall participation in the dining system is up from previous years and that Take 4 has seen a massive spike in usage under Bon Appétit’s management. “We used to see about only 200 swipes on busier days. Now we often see over 300 swipes per day and sometimes exceed 400 swipes per day.” Terp explained that the administration constantly reviewed both individual student feedback as well as data trends to assess the effectiveness of dining services. The administration also utilizes an outside consultant who conducts periodic reviews of the dining service. Terp also revealed that, contrary to popular belief, “Due to long operating hours, the combination of the Pub, Spa and Museum Cafe does not generate any profit [for the college]. It is subsidized.”

Kelly McDonald emphasized that dining services will continue to aim for improvement. “We value our relationship with the Colby community and strive to offer a food program that satisfies as many students as possible while meeting Colby and Bon Appétit’s own high standards for freshness, quality, health, and sustainability. Please continue to share your feedback with us so we may keep improving your dining experience.”