Recently, Executive Chef for Bon Appétit Management Company, Michael Downey, submitted information about changes that have been taking place in Bon Appétit at Lawrence. Read on to hear his responses to staff from The Lawrentian.
Q: What changes do you plan on making as the newest leader of Bon Appétit at Lawrence?
A: We’ve been making changes over the last few weeks in several areas. In Andrew Commons, we’ve rearranged our stations to better accommodate students with allergies and those with vegan and vegetarian preferences. These changes have been highlighted with new signs and information to better highlight the variety and range of offerings. We also made a switch to a larger quarter-pound local hamburger from one of our Farm to Fork partners and added a new vegan/vegetarian deli section as well as a new hot breakfast cereal bar. Soup has returned as well. In Kaplan’s Grill, the buffalo chicken and BOCA wrap are back, as well as the breakfast burrito.
Q: How are you addressing staff shortage issues?
A: Staffing continues to be challenging for everyone. We are working hard to recruit new staff members to support our team. We use several resources to help us identify potential candidates. We post on job search platforms, rely on employee referrals and partner with local agencies such as Goodwill, the Department of Workforce Development, World Relief and others to identify potential employees. We have recently received help from two regional recruiters who are dedicating time to focus on hiring at Lawrence and were successful in hiring seven new employees, including three new managers for us. The three managers include Board Manager Alex Cousineau, Catering Director Beth Pierce and Sous Chef David Schultz.
Q: How many staff members does Bon Appétit currently have at Lawrence?
A: We currently have 45 Bon Appétit employees, not including student workers. Shifts in service and operational styles with COVID have changed our staffing needs, so the optimal number of staff is hard to pinpoint currently. As I noted before, we are working with recruiters to grow our permanent team. We also want to recruit more student workers. Right now, we have significantly fewer student workers than we normally have. Pre-COVID, that number fluctuated between 60 and 100 student workers, depending on need, and is now under 10. We are working with Lawrence to develop new incentives to draw students to the work study program. In addition, Bon Appétit has a new Ambassadors program that’s available to all student workers. It’s a resume-building certificate program tucked into a regular job at Bon Appétit. Students choose a track (sustainability, wellness or social media) and then embark on a paid 10-week course in their chosen subject matter, taught by an expert from Bon Appétit’s corporate team. Hours are built around students’ schedules, including finals and breaks. At the end, you get a certificate that you can talk about in job interviews or on your resume.
Q: Why do you think there is a shortage of employees?
A: There is a nationwide staffing shortage in multiple industries that is related to many intersecting factors, including COVID-19. The hospitality and food service industries have been hit severely, as have many other types of businesses. Pay is always an important factor in employee retention. Bon Appétit at Lawrence offers wage and benefits packages that are at the high end of the competitive market for the food service industry and comparable industries in the area. Our team regularly works with our compensation team to survey the local Appleton market and surrounding areas to ensure our wages and benefits exceed the average and align with the most competitive jobs in the industry in the region.
Q: Can you speak on the irregularity of the Café’s hours?
A: I’m glad to say that we are now back to normal operating hours. Earlier in the year, the spread of the omicron variant in the larger Appleton community meant some of our staff members had to stay home, which affected our ability to stay open for normal operating hours. At the time, this issue was exacerbated by staffing shortages. The week we had to close Kaplan’s early was when we were hit the hardest by absences due to omicron. We didn’t have enough staff to fill all the positions needed to operate for the full day, thus we had to close at 5 p.m. We don’t want this to happen again. I’m glad to say that the spread of omicron has declined in the community. We are continuing to hire additional staff so overwhelming absences due to sickness will be less likely to affect us this significantly in the future.
Downey concluded his responses, “I’m thankful for the opportunity to share our story and provide background about what we do on campus. We have a fantastic group of hardworking, truly dedicated staff who love to provide great food and service to the students and campus as a whole each day.”