Students Not Getting Enough Bon for their Buck

An illustration of what students may feel when pressed for time and being stuck in line at the Bon. Illustration by Maya Winshell.

For Lewis & Clark residential students, a meal plan from Bon Appétit is required. Given that this plan is the only dining option for many of us living on such an enclosed campus, and that getting off of the meal plan is nearly impossible, one would hope that the services we are forced to live with for at least two years are satisfactory. Unfortunately, they continue to fall short of that standard in a number of ways.

The most common meal plan provides 14 meals per week and $150 in flex points. This plan costs $2,795 per semester, working out to about $11.80 per meal, assuming that a student uses every meal. Of course, few students actually use all 14 per week; because you can only swipe once for each meal, the per-meal price is likely higher for the average student. This cost should immediately draw concern given that a lunch or dinner purchased individually at the Bon costs only $8.30 and a meal-equivalent purchase at Maggie’s costs, at most, $9. So, students could be saving money by simply purchasing each meal individually.

But, for argument’s sake, perhaps the extra cost is paying for the convenience of on-campus dining. The problem here is that Bon Appétit’s dining options are consistently inconvenient.

Let us start with the Dovecote. Perhaps you are pressed for time, so you decide to stop for a quick meal at this pleasant café, conveniently located next to the academic buildings. You get a sandwich but are disappointed when, for some indiscernible reason, they do not accept meal swipes, despite selling “paninis” nearly identical to the sandwiches at Maggie’s.

When hunger strikes again, you remember to go to Maggie’s, where there is meal-equivalency for a sandwich or bowl. You order your food and ask for a meal swipe. Unfortunately, you have forgotten that it is Friday. “Sorry” the worker says, “we don’t accept meal swipes today or Saturday.”

Perhaps you have remembered this arbitrary rule and have gone in on a more acceptable day of the week to order a bowl. You receive a fairly heavy container of food, which you open to discover only a few pieces of protein and an unnecessary quantity of plain white rice. You might decide to get a snack to go along with your pound of rice, but you are quickly discouraged when you see the exorbitant prices for Maggie’s snacks, sometimes at more than a 200 percent markup from retail price.

An alternative to this is the Trailroom, which is a reliable option for lunch most days and is less chaotic than the Bon. However, the food options here are generally limited and unchanging, lines can be long and it is only open for lunch on weekdays. I have often heard upperclassmen reminisce about the times when the Troom served dinner at hours even later than the Bon and how this relatively recent change has severely limited meal options.

Finally there is Fields Dining Hall, better known as “the Bon.” If you come here early, you can avoid the crowds and eat all you want of the day’s halfway-decent meal options. However, if you come at peak hours, the lines often reach all the way to the tables; when you get to the front, you may have to wait longer because they ran out of food and are making more. When you finally get your meal, many condiments are usually missing and are often not refilled. Missing toppings regularly accompany empty coffee dispensers and dirty tables, and these problems only worsen during later meal hours. Additionally, if you are vegan or vegetarian, you had better get used to soy curls and mushrooms, for they are the meat substitutes in most meals.  

I do not mean to blame Bon Appétit workers, who are usually very friendly and diligent, for these problems. These issues instead seem to stem from those at the managerial level, who do not adequately prepare decent meals for large numbers, those at the executive level, who institute arbitrary rules and prices in an attempt to excessively profit off of college students and those within LC’s administration, who explicitly endorse these practices by mandating an expensive meal plan. Bon Appétit management should be working to increase quality and efficiency, and a meal plan should be voluntary, or at least more fairly priced. We have chosen to come to LC, but we are not allowed to choose how we eat here. We should be getting more for our money.

Written by Austin Schmidberger.

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