Bon Voyage, Bon Appétit

Editorial Board

Chronic understaffing, overworked staff members, disgruntled employees and complaints about mismanagement. These are some of the issues that Campus Dining Service workers decried more than two years ago, as covered in the Review at the time (“CDS Workers: We’re Overworked, Disrespected,” The Oberlin Review, Oct. 2, 2015). And yet seemingly nothing was fixed in the last two years, as the same set of issues were the central focus of a campus protest Monday.

In collaboration with CDS employees, Student Labor Action Coalition coordinated a boycott of dining halls. Members of the organization took to social media and other platforms to encourage students to eat in co-ops or join a picnic in Wilder Hall for lunch Monday. Reiterating frustrations with the College’s third-party food management system, Bon Appétit Management Company,

CDS employees sought to draw attention to the issue on May Day, historically International Workers’ Day. Among the most central concerns, employees said that Bon Appétit stifles culinary creativity, mismanages employee and contributes to food waste (See “Students, CDS Workers Protest Bon Appétit, page 1). CDS staffers have argued in favor of an in-house management system that would involve the College directly hiring managers, chefs and other positions and could ultimately save the College money. Eliminating Bon Appétit, which has been plagued by alleged sexual assault scandals and other serious complaints in recent years, would be the most productive move for the College.

According to the company’s website, Bon Appétit “help[s] companies create great places to work, with healthy and productive employees. [It] help[s] universities make the grade when it comes to attracting students.” But this mission statement does not live up to reality, according to employees who are directly managed by the company’s managers. In 2015, CDS employee and United Auto Workers bargaining representative Robert Sullivan called out the company, saying, “Don’t tell the truth to anyone, don’t answer any questions, don’t look anyone in the eye — those are Bon Appétit core values.”

In addition to the potential savings from eliminating the third-party management system, the College should consider making better use of current staff members who have years of experience under their belt. Many CDS employees have serious culinary chops and experience in the food-service industry. Yet those skills often go to waste, as the College’s talented employees feel like they have to follow Bon Appétit recipes that are frequently unpopular and subsequently thrown out. To use administrative parlance, why isn’t the College “leveraging” the “human capital” it already has?

In-house management systems at peer institutions have found success both with students and employees. For example, Bowdoin College in Maine has similar standards to Oberlin regarding food sourcing and organic ingredients, but everything is managed internally. Bowdoin chefs make meals from scratch, source fruits and vegetables from their own gardens, have an in-house meat shop and create their own recipes. These are some of the same requirements Oberlin looks for in dining services.

According to Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, the College considers a wide range of factors, including cost-effectiveness, resources about developing effective college dining programs, training for professional development of managers and employees and student feedback, among others.

It is then worth asking if these same standards can be achieved with in-house management. According to local United Auto Workers Chair Milton Wyman, Bon Appétit’s yearly contract with the College is up for renewal this summer, meaning it is time to consider a shift in light of ongoing complaints from the workers most intimately connected with Bon Appétit. Perhaps the College should ditch the controversial third-party contractor and follow the old proverb, “If you want a job done right, do it yourself.”