Lawrence, similar to many other college campuses across the nation, contracts Bon Appétit as the sole dining service provider on campus. With Bon Appétit having the monopoly, especially in Warch—a space that most Lawrentians utilize for everything from studying and eating to hosting events and important functions—students have limited options when it comes to dining and catering. The fact that Bon Appétit has the monopoly, together with the mandatory meal plans and other limitations from Campus Life not only severely limits student choices but also makes these choices very expensive and affect students’ overall well-being.
The current meal plan system for students is expensive and unnecessarily inflexible. Each student is charged a fixed sum of $4,929 annually (2016-17 year figures) for their meal plans, and they only have three options to vary the combination of culinary cash and meal swipes to suit their needs, along with one option of complete culinary cash. Although we acknowledge the importance of a mandatory meal plan for all residential students to create a close-knit community which Lawrence prides itself, the meal plan need not be so expensive. Some other Midwestern private liberal arts colleges which also use Bon Appétit as their food provider, namely Beloit College, have differently priced meal plans. While students are still required to be on the meal plan, they do not have to pay more than what they can afford. Most other colleges’ most expensive meal plans are also cheaper than ours, even when they are in areas with comparable costs of living.
In addition, it is difficult for students who need to get off the meal plan at Lawrence for health or religious reasons to do so. There is a special accommodation they have to petition for, and the process is difficult for many. It should be more optional for students, especially upperclassmen. Although there are meal plans with food-based houses, there has recently been an increased demand, signaling a need for more alternative options for students.
Another important concern is that Bon Appétit’s monopoly limits students options when it comes to catering for events. All events at Warch have to be catered by Bon Appétit and Bon Appétit charges $80 per caterer per four-hour shift. This cost factor, along with the Warch monopoly, is a main reason behind the missing chocolate fountain at President’s Ball that upset many students. The high cost of catering from Bon Appétit also drains the budgets of many smaller student organizations for events that are important to them.
Most importantly, with the high price students have to pay for dining and catering needs, Bon Appétit must pay their student workers better. Student workers are only paid a little more than minimum wage, creating an issue of high turnover.
With Bon Appétit as our sole food provider, they must meet the needs of the growing student body—with such a high price for our meal plan compared to other private campuses around the Midwest, there must be changes made to the payment of student workers and catering costs. If these concerns are not met and accommodations are not made in a timely manner for those with religious and health concerns, then it is only right that students have the choice to remove themselves from the meal plan.
UPDATE: This article was updated on February 27, 2017 to correct slight factual inaccuracies concerning caterer compensation and the President’s Ball.