For the past couple of decades, Macalester has held a food service contract with Bon Appétit, but recently, this relationship has become more restrictive.
“The 10-year contract was new; we put that in place, I think, in 2009. Bon App has been our main vendor for 10-15 years before the 10 year contract,” David Wheaton, Vice President of Administration and Finance, said. “In the renewal, we are trying to find a balance between cost and quality of food. Bon Appétit is regarded in the business as a very high-quality vendor, and our students really appreciate that.”
Before Bon Appétit came into the food service provider stage in the Twin Cities, Macalester had less intensive relations with various smaller providers. Now, finance officials like Patricia Langer, Associate Vice President of Finance, feel ready to move forward with long-term contracts.
“We wanted to gather a bunch of information from campus before going into contract renewal” Langer said. “We did a campus-wide survey to get information from campus in general and students specifically to hear about how Bon Appetit was doing before moving into renewal.”
The results of the survey showed that the first thing students are interested in is the quality of food served by Bon Appétit.
“As we think of other dining vendor options available in the Twin Cities area, we thought about ones with higher food quality, and we think that Bon Appetit is the one with the ability to serve food of the highest quality,” Langer said. “The number two item was price. At Macalester, we have a lot of conversations about the price of the food program. We do a lot of benchmarking with the 40 school peer group, and our dining program is one of the lowest in our group.”
This benchmarking strategy–widely used by colleges throughout the U.S.–helps guide administrators. The intercollegiate collaboration creates comparisons surrounding meal plan price and food quality that would have been difficult to generate alone. Bon Appétit reflects many of the values that finance officers want to see in businesses associated with Macalester.
“I think they are an example of an organization that can bring a lot of good values to what they do, like bring 19 meals to a student every week for 30-something weeks,” Wheaton said.
“Institutionally and organizationally, we like to work with them because they take seriously the values we share about sustainability,” he continued. “An important part of what Bon Appétit does is that they have built an entire business around high-quality ingredients but also sustainable products and locally-sourced products.”
Langer shared a quarterly newsletter released by Bon Appétit called Bravo where they cover a variety of stories centering around sustainability and local products to challenge some misconceptions surrounding Bon Appétit’s goals as a business.
Wheaton also wants students to believe in Bon Appétit’s promise to strive for more viable methods of production. “Rather than creating a day that they talk about sustainability, they do it all the time. They try to help us reduce our food waste” he said.
Both Langer and Wheaton stressed that student input was a driving force for the renegotiations, citing the survey mentioned earlier.
“We had 414 students participate, which was great. We were really happy about the participation rate and grateful that students took time to share their needs and it was very helpful to focus on what our direction should be,” Langer said.
The final part of the survey allowed students to suggest ways that the administration could help strengthen the relationships between students and food service providers.
“Institutional research helped us with coding and finding commonalities in the responses to help enact changes” Langer said.
With data gathered from the survey, Langer and her team decided to engage in discussions about new contracts that could create a more concrete relationship between both the business and comfort aspects of dining and meal plans.
Wheaton supported this decision, mentioning how beneficial long–standing contracts are for Macalester students.
“Vendors for different kinds of services are willing to give you more favorable terms if you commit yourselves to them for longer,” Wheaton said.
Contract renegotiations are often very complicated and confusing affairs, but Langer and Wheaton expressed that they do their best to put the interests of students at the center of discussions.