Bon Appétit takes control of the Viking Room, makes changes

Michael Schreiber

As many Lawrentians are aware, Bon Appétit Management Company now operates the campus food service. However, fewer people realize that Bon Appétit has taken over the management of Lawrence’s campus bar, the Viking Room. Bon Appétit has already made changes, such as price hikes, in the bar’s operations, and has more plans for its future.
According to Julie Severance, general manager of Bon Appétit at Lawrence, the majority of the day-to-day operations of the Viking Room will remain much the same.
“Bon Appétit management realizes how important Viking Room traditions are to students and the Lawrence University community,” Severance said. “We fully intend to keep traditions alive.”
Although much about the Viking Room will remain the same, there will be some changes to hours and pricing.
Whereas the Viking Room had only been closed Sunday evenings in the past, it will now also be closed Monday nights.
Severance explained the change in hours in financial terms, saying, “Monday nights just weren’t profitable.”
Concerns about profitability have also led to some pricing changes at the Viking Room.
Severance said that the pricing increases range “from as little as 20 cents to the largest increase of about one dollar for [something like] a pitcher.”
According to Severance, Bon Appétit examined what the bars downtown on College Avenue were charging and “wanted to be competitive.”
Bon Appétit’s emphasis on profitability is a new development for the Viking Room.
Under previous Lawrence-run management, the Viking Room had operated as a not-for-profit establishment. While Severance did not “know where the profits from the Viking Room went under LU [management],” she asserted that Bon Appétit “is a for-profit company and will use the profits from the bar to run it.”
Severance said she believes Bon Appétit will bring mostly positive changes to the Viking room.
“We hope to bring enhancements, [such as] music, contests and promotions to the Viking Room,” Severance said. “We would like to have anything you might expect at a bar downtown.”
Severance said she “hopes to be able to funnel some of the [Viking Room] profit into programming for the bar — campus bands, etc.”
Although Bon Appétit now has high hopes for the Viking Room, the company had not originally planned to run the bar.
“The Viking Room was not part of our bid [to provide food service],” Severance said. “The school asked if we would manage it for them, which we were happy to do.”
According to Severance, the former management had not failed in any way that led to the Bon Appétit takeover. Severance described the former management as “extremely diligent.”
Under the current arrangement, Lawrence still holds the Viking Room’s liquor license, but it is Severance whose name is on the license.
Severance said that she does not intend to impose a “command structure” on the Viking Room. Instead, Severance seeks to “ensure liquor laws are met and just follow the rules.”
The existing structure of student bartenders and managers will remain in place.
Chris McGeorge, a student manager, said the biggest change from his perspective “will be a nonstudent bar manager, who will be on-site during hours of operation.”
McGeorge said he is “not a fan of unnecessary change,” but he does not think that students will “notice any drastic differences.”
McGeorge noted that the price increases implemented by Bon Appétit “are not solely due to the transition to Bon Appétit management.”
“It had been about four years since the Viking Room had increased its prices, and there would have been some increases this year even if Bon Appétit had not taken over,” McGeorge explained.
McGeorge said that Bon Appétit management has so far resulted in “some nice chairs” for the Viking Room.
Though Bon Appétit is new to Lawrence, Severance has high hopes for a successful first year.
“We’re excited to be on campus and to help run the bar. I think it will be a great partnership,” said Severance.
Severance welcomes and expects student feedback. She encourages students to leave feedback at the Bon Appétit Web site, http://www.cafebonappetit.com/lawrence. She also welcomes comments by e-mail at jseverance@cafebonappetit.com.

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