Two years ago, Matt O’Sullivan ’15 raved about the change from Saga to Bon Appetit.
“It’s like the food gods have come to earth and are now incarnate in the kitchen,” O’Sullivan told The Collegian.
Two years later, however, meal plan complaints have returned. From criticisms about the price of each meal (between $12 and $18 per meal for students on block plans) to the requirement to be on the meal plan, students grumble incessantly about the meal plan.
In the food service survey offered to students in spring 2016, 45 percent of the 650 responding students said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the meal plan options, 38 percent of students claimed they skip meals because they are tired of the food, and 57 percent of students rated their overall satisfaction as average, below average, or poor.
Clearly, students aren’t happy. But it’s time to stop the complaining.
Not only is the meal plan requirement necessary from a financial standpoint, it also is an integral part of the campus culture and enables the school to hire a well-regarded catering company.
Financially, the money fits into the overall budget of the school. If students were not required to be on the meal plan, then they would be required to pay that money in another form, such as through fees or tuition.
“If I don’t spend X in my budget, it goes to Pat Flannery and Pat distributes that; he’s got to meet his expense budget. We’re very careful about our operations at the college,” Péwé said.
The school works hard to replace the absence of federal money while keeping costs down, but there is still a budget to be met.
“The revenue we make off the meal plan helps keep the Grewcock Student Center fee lower because some of that revenue is used for maintenance and equipment we may need to purchase,” Vice President for Finance Patrick Flannery said.
But the meal plan is not simply a way to make ends meet financially, but a means of continuing the Hillsdale culture that draws so many students to Hillsdale to begin with.
“A meal is more than just getting proper nutrients for your body,” Senior Greg Rybka said. “It’s growing in a relationship with someone. There’s a certain level of intimacy there.”
Upwards of a dozen students will crowd around the same round table, desperately trying to find a place to put their plate down and to cut their food without bumping their neighbor. It’s an integral part of the campus culture.
“We want people to sit down after class and talk.” Péwé said. “We do want the upperclassmen to sit with the freshman and sophomores.”
Catholic Cardinal and Theologian John Henry Newman even went so far as to say that an education without community is even worse than an education without teachers.
“When a multitude of young men – keen, open-hearted, sympathetic, and observant, as young men are – come together and freely mix with each other, they are sure to learn from one another, even if there be no one to teach them; the conversation of all is a series of lectures to each, and they gain for themselves new ideas and views, fresh matter of thought, and distinct principles for judging and acting, day by day,” Newman said in “The Idea of a University.”
In order to create this conversation, Péwé believed it was necessary to have good food. In 2014, after careful consideration, the school switched food service providers to ensure students received ample healthy and allergenic options and extended meal times from a well-regarded company.
Prior to Bon Appetit, students with allergies required special permission from the deans to receive allergenic food. Now, that food is available to everybody. Without requiring students to be on a meal plan, however, this option might not be possible.
“The general rule is the more people participating in the meal plan, the better the overall product,” Dean of Men Aaron Petersen said.
And despite frequently being understaffed, Bon Appetit attempts to form relationships with students.
“Hospitality is something we preach, and we understand our relationship with the student goes beyond feeding them,” Bon Appetit General Manager at Hillsdale College Dave Apthorpe said.
Bon Appetit’s popularity in the Hillsdale community has proven so popular that Bon Appetit did not even need to advertise for cash sales, according to Flannery.
Even so, Bon Appetit continues to strive toward improvement. The recent Caesar salad bar and the panini grill were just some of the changes they’ve made.
“We’re always trying to improve, and we value student feedback,” Apthorpe said. “The challenge is knowing that you’re not going to be able to please everyone all the time, being able to accept that, and trying to maximize where you can.”
The school created the 10 per week and 100 block plans in order to appease students, and the administration continues to consider alternative plans. Contrary to common perception, not all students are even required to be on a meal plan; 10 percent of full-time students are not on meal plans. Exemptions include fifth year seniors, married students, commuting students, students 24 years or older, students with two years of active military duty who received honorable discharge, and more.
Students will always complain, and students at Hillsdale will always appeal to the free market and rising to self-government. But Petersen knows how the free market really works.
“We actually are practicing what we preach. We’re a private institution and we’re doing what we think is best,” Petersen said.
Chavey is a senior studying music and journalism.