Meal Plan Changes: An interview with Bon Appetit manager Julie Severance

Changes this year in Lawrence’s main dining hall, Andrew Commons, have provoked reactions from students, including confusion. The Lawrentian spoke to Julie Severance, manager of Lawrence’s Bon Appetit branch, over email to gain clarity on what has changed and why. Bon Appetit is a food service provider that provides for various organizations. Her response was recieved on Oct. 8. Note that since this time, the vegan station has returned to the commons.

Catherine Stern’s campus-wide email from May concerning meal plans describes the new changes in the meal plan as coming, “In response to student needs.” While providing more swipes per term for some meal plans does appear to be in students’ interests, many take issue with how the new system causes students’ meal swipes to reset every Friday with any unused swipes from the week prior disappearing. 

 “Meal plans are set by the University, not Bon Appetit,” Severance said. “We simply assist the University by pricing out what they request and then implement the meal plan once it is set.”

Severance explained that unused swipes carrying over was cut as a trade-off to allow students to have more swipes overall. “The University asked us to do several things including not raise the cost of meal plans (except for food inflation) and provide meal plans that provide students the opportunity to eat significantly more meals, up to and including 3 meals a day. That meant some of the flexibility in the old plans was too expensive for the new plans and the University prioritized more robust meal plans over flexibility.”

“Unlimited guest meals, just like the rollover of meals and culinary cash,” Severance said, “is some of the flexibility sacrificed in order to expand the meal plans.”

For those unhappy with these trade-offs in the meal plan system, there are options for voicing dissatisfaction in order to inspire change.

A formal meal plan feedback session was held on Wednesday, Oct. 9, in response to student concerns. This event was held with the purpose of hearing from students and faculty. 

For those who missed the formal feedback event, Severance recommends that people come to her office next to Andrew Commons or Executive Chief Michael Downey’s office within Andrew Commons to tell Bon Appetit staff their ideas for future changes or ask questions about the Commons. While “our doors are always open,” she said, because “we are often on the floor, we encourage students to schedule a meeting with us.  If you see us in the servery please come up and say hi and talk with us about your concerns.”

Meetings with Severance or Downey can be scheduled by contacting them by phone or email at julie.severance@cafebonappetit.com and michael.downey@cafebonappetit.com. 

  Severance also spoke on other ways feedback is collected: “Our feedback comes mainly from online and physical comment cards and surveying,” she said. 

Severance explained that Downey is in charge of creating the weekly Commons menu. “Our Executive Chef, Michael Downey, writes all of the menus in Andrew Commons each week,” she said. “It is a delicate balance between fan favorites, trying new things and making sure we hit all of the nutritional and allergen needs of the students.”

In order to best design the Commons menu, “Both Michael and I do extensive research around food trends in college dining,” Severance said. “Our goal is to introduce new foods and/or stations when applicable.  We also understand that…we are here to serve the students and if a concept doesn’t work we can and will change it.”

She also said that past feedback still factors into decision making at Bon Appetit: “We are lucky to have 10 years of menus and menu notes on which items are most popular and those we should not menu again.”

Severance’s name may be unknown to many on campus, yet she has been the General Manager of Bon Appetit at Lawrence since 2009. “My role is to manage the Bon Appetit team and act as a liaison between Bon Appetit and the University,” she said. “I spend the majority of my time interacting with staff and students so I can make sure Bon Appetit provides the finest food and service to the Lawrence community.”

Some returning students were surprised to see the taco bar in a new location at the beginning of this year and expanded so that it replaced what used to be the vegan station. As to why this change was made, “Last year we heard from students (through surveys and comment cards) that Mercado was one of the most popular stations and they wanted more of it,” Severance said. “We expanded the station this year, but the feedback we received has not been positive, so we have already made changes to the station (station is condensed and offerings will change bi-weekly).”

Changes at Mercado and the return of the vegan station have evidenced the fact that Bon Appetit has heard student feedback and made changes in response to it, supporting the idea that they may continue to do so.

On a more trivial note, some students have wondered why there has been a white column with special lights and plants inside it at the Commons. Severance had an answer: “It is called a Flex Farm,” Severance said. “It is not operated by Bon Appetit, but by two Lawrence students who received a grant to purchase it. It is a hydroponic grow column that [grew] lettuce and basil. Bon Appetit does use the produce grown in the Flex Farm.”

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