This year, Macalester welcomed its biggest-ever first-year class. The 612 students in that class, all of whom are required to live on campus, are also required to purchase a full college meal plan.
In anticipation of the arrival of so many students, Bon Appétit, Macalester’s food service provider, worked with the college to make adjustments designed to alleviate congestion during meal times in Café Mac.
Amy Jackson has worked for Bon Appétit since 2014. In June she was promoted from Catering Director to General Manager.
“Mainly, we were concerned about seating in Cafe Mac,” Jackson said. “We wanted to see what we could do here to try and freshen up [the Loch]. That area has been drawing consistently about 150 from Café Mac each day during lunch. The Atrium has always been a really consistent spot for people to go outside of Café Mac, so we didn’t make any changes there.”
The Loch’s new Middle Eastern-inspired halal menu offers students the opportunity to customize their lunch and includes rice and pita bowls, as well as rotisserie chicken and gyro meat.
The college also extended the hours of Scotty’s, which is now open from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday in an effort to draw students away from the main dining hall for dinner.
However, not all changes to Dining Services are attributable to the larger first-year class.
In early October, students expressed frustration over requests to place backpacks in cubbies and the enforcement of the college’s meal swipe policy – which states that students may use two swipes during one meal period, but not at the same location.
Around that time, Sabri Fair ’21 created a Facebook event to express his displeasure with both issues.
“I was more trying to use the backpacks as a symbol for other issues that were occurring here,” Fair said. “One thing that I don’t like is that they’ve taken away double swipes. That was a really sweet thing last year. Just to get to hang out with teammates, with classmates, with people you’re in organizations with. I thought that was a really nice community building thing.”
But the Facebook event description he wrote was even more strident.
“Until Bon Appétit reinstates double swipes we owe them nothing! Bring a backpack or two and refuse to place them in the cubbies,” it read. “Don’t give into the system as they attempt to reduce food theft from cafe mac.”
In fact, the meal swipe policy at Macalester has not changed since last year. New technology, not a change in policy, is responsible for the change in the enforcement.
“With the advent of new technology that came in, we fixed the system so that it would follow the guidelines that are always in place,” Macalester’s Director of Purchasing, Auxiliaries & Accounts Payable Matt Rumpza said. “We didn’t change what was supposed to be happening, we [have] just enforced it more this year.”
Jackson and Rumpza meet weekly to discuss student feedback. They are the chairs of the Macalester Dining Advisory Committee (MDAC), which is also composed of students and Bon Appétit staff.
“One of the first things I did when I took on this position was make sure we had an avenue for students to come and express what they like, what they don’t like and if any changes need to be done,” Rumpza said.
Anya Ptáček ’21 currently serves on the committee. Previously, Ptáček worked in the Sustainability Office working on issues related to food on campus. Now, she works with Bon Appétit as a sustainability advisor.
“It was honestly the most productive committee I’d ever been on. We went into it, we’d have an agenda,” Ptáček said. “The [Bon Appétit] employees have all this knowledge of sustainability issues that I had never even heard of.”
When the Facebook event appeared on her feed, Ptáček felt that the student frustrations were misplaced. She qualified this, though, by adding that she would be more sympathetic to their concerns if it wasn’t for her position on MDAC.
“As students, we tend to view Bon Appétit as this evil outside corporation that isn’t always implementing these sustainable practices, and we don’t really know about the double swipe thing,” Ptacek said. “But their employees really care. It is just a systemic issue that we all need to try and help them with.”
Though a Facebook event instigating protest is one avenue for students to vocalize their frustrations, Rumpza hopes to communicate with students in other ways.
“We’re now trying to find ways that we can get students involved and get them in front of the right people that we need to in order to hear concerns, what they like, what they want,” Rumpza said. “I’m absolutely welcome to any suggestion a student may have.”