Hitting us where it hurts: Food restriction dilemma

It’s rare that a campus issue can unite a diverse student community. However, The Observer has found such a topic this week, and it hits right at the heart of students: their bellies.

Despite posting no notice of the change, this summer Case Western Reserve University agreed to a deal with Bon Appétit which made the food management company the exclusive food provider for the new Tinkham Veale University Center as well as the spaces they took over, The Spot and Rough Rider Room.

What does this change mean for students?

You now can’t bring food into those spaces for student group events. Pizza from Rascal House? Nope, not allowed. Burritos for Chipotle? Nada.

Want a break from dining hall food? Well too bad.

It’s got to be expensive Bon Appétit catering or it’s got to go somewhere else.

How did we get stuck in this situation?

According to Beth Nochomovitz, the director of Auxiliary Services, her office gave Bon Appétit these exclusive catering rights after the food management company made a “significant financial” contribution to the development of the new university center.

Let’s clear some things up: This isn’t entirely Bon Appétit’s fault. Bon Appétit is a business. They made an investment and expected to increase their revenue as a result. It’s an action any business would take.

However, university administration did not consider how such a deal would impact students when they signed the contract, which is a shame. University officials saw money and jumped at it. Sure, outside partnerships which bring an extra funding source are typically an incredible asset to the CWRU community. The stipulations of this deal though, negate the positives. This was not a “donation,” it was a loan which is currently being repaid on the back of cash-strapped student groups and undergraduate-serving departments.

With a capital campaign which recently reached its goal of $1 billion two years early, funds could have been shifted to avoid such an unfortunate contract. Would donors be happy to hear that their money is being spent in ways that do not best improve the student experience?

Nochomovitz emphasized that Bon Appétit has been a tremendous “partner” in the construction of the whole building. It’s great to see that CWRU has a strong working relationship with one of its biggest service providers, but let’s remember, as we mentioned prior, Bon Appétit is a business. They are not our buds doing us a favor. CWRU pays them, and probably quite well for their services.

Why are we indebted to a company which works for us?

What’s being done to fix this issue?

The Observer staff is excited to see such great campus response to address this unfortunate situation. The Office of Auxiliary Services has been meeting with representatives from Bon Appétit since concerns were brought up to hash out a new deal.

According to Nochomovitz, the ban on outside food may be lifted in The Spot and Rough Rider room when the two locations are not serving food options. This is a great start sure, but isn’t that already a no-brainer?

Additionally, the idea that Bon Appétit would develop a special student group catering menu was brought up as well.

Jim O’Brien, the resident district manager of Bon Appétit, emphasized that the two sides were working to “develop options that would make sense for everybody.” He did not want to disclose specifics as of press time.

The Office of Student Affairs is looking at the issue as well. Additionally, a committee made of representatives from Student Executive Council organizations is being formed, headed up by junior Marcel Youkhana, the vice president of residential relations for the Resident Hall Association. He says the current plan is to host forums where the student body express their concerns with members of the administration, but again, this is an idea that is still in the developmental stages.

“The timeline at this point is unclear because I haven’t been able to meet with the committee to discuss what exactly we want to see and when we want to see it,” Youkhana noted. “I hope to meet sometime within the next week and start communicating with the administration as soon as possible after that.

Why Bon Appétit should drop the requirement altogether

Our recommendation for Bon Appétit is to drop the “exclusivity” clause for student groups all-together. They don’t have to do this, after all a contract is a contract, however, it may be in their best interest to rethink their policy.

Why? Because student groups have other options. They can, and if they are frustrated, should, go to outside vendors and just book other rooms in Thwing, Nord or other venues which don’t have the same restrictions. So even if Bon Appétit is the exclusive provider, they probably won’t generate much revenue off student groups. There isn’t a benefit to their company.

All this time, while Bon Appétit doesn’t bring an extra funds, they will be bringing in a lot of another thing: animosity from students.

Angering their main customer while not bringing in additional money? That doesn’t sound like good business to us.

Students, our recommendation for you is that if you have food at your meetings, schedule the meeting somewhere else. Don’t support the company that is forcing you to buy their product.

Students, you spoke out, and it was heard. We applaud campus leaders for stepping up and addressing this issue. Now make sure things get done, and that the solution doesn’t get stuck in the dreaded “committee stage.” The sooner the policy is changed, the better.