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An Interview with Bon Appetit’s Ken Hnilo

This week The Round Table sat down with Bon Appetít General Manager, Ken Hnilo, to discuss recent upset regarding meal service. 

TR: Have you been aware of student concerns regarding food service? If so,

for how long? What did you hear?

KH: Yes. Last week we had a meeting with students, the Dean of Students, Director

of Residential Life, and the Director of Health & Wellness/Powerhouse, to

discuss student concerns. Over the last seven weeks a few students have

reached out to discuss certain food issues and ask questions about their meal

plans and dietary restrictions.

TR: Did you attend last night’s student forum? If so, what did you hear?

KH: We were aware that a student forum was occurring, but we were not involved.

Late last week we received written feedback based on the concerns generated

at the forum. We’re reviewing it right now and we will be discussing changes and

recommendations with the Director of Residential Life, the Dean of Students,

and the student body/food group.

TR: How does Bon Appétit plan to implement students’ requests? Or just

improve the situation?

KH: In the past, we have had a student food council at Beloit but due to the

pandemic we haven’t had one for two years. We look forward to developing one

again so there is a formalized forum for discussing student concerns. We are

currently reviewing the feedback from the first student forum and look forward to

collaborating with students and the College in the future. When students

communicate their concerns with us, we’re able to take action to find solutions.

We really want to hear feedback from students, whether that’s written feedback,

coming to us to discuss concerns in person, or via the food council.

TR: Students have noticed a lack of quality foods, sad-looking food,

undercooked meat, lack of seasoning, how do you plan to improve this?

KH: Again, I want to emphasize that communication is important. If you believe you

have received undercooked meat in the café or are dissatisfied with what you’ve

received, we want to know about it right away so we can investigate and solve

the issue. Regarding seasoning, we’re always trying to strike a balance to appeal

to many different palates. For example, we have recently received requests from

some students and parents for simpler, less seasoned food. While Beloit is a

small school, our student body represents 41 countries and many states within

the U.S. We are trying to offer meals that appeal to a wide range of tastes and

dietary needs. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your meal, let us know. Our

team might have suggestions for sauces and condiments that can kick it up a

notch.

TR: Students want more variety in meal options, is this something that is

possible to accomplish? (i.e., less fried stuff, more produce, simpler meals

that are made better)

KH: We understand the desire for more variety and there are some requests from the

student meeting last week that we can address immediately, such as offering

more grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, and fried rice. However, there are

a couple of intersecting issues that are affecting our ability to offer as much

variety as we’d like to right now: a national labor crisis that is affecting many

industries and a variety of supply chain disruptions due to COVID that are also

occurring on a national scale.

We are grateful for our hardworking team and are also making every effort to

recruit new hires to support them, which will help us to open additional stations

and offer more variety. We are also working with our suppliers every day to

secure the best possible products and make sure we have the variety we know

students want. Unfortunately, like many businesses across the nation, our

suppliers are short on some products they regularly have. And sometimes even if

the products are in stock, labor shortages mean our suppliers don’t have

warehouse workers or drivers to get these products to us. For example, we

ordered 40 cases of french fries last week, but due to delivery issues we received

none of them.

Students have been really understanding about this overall, but it’s a pain point

for everyone.

TR: How specifically has the labor shortage affected meal service? 

KH: The Bon Appétit team is smaller than usual but is still trying to serve the

community in the same way it has in the past, which can be stressful. A smaller

staff may mean that students wait an extra moment when we are replenishing an

item or that a specific menu item may need to be altered or removed right before

our meal service. We love being part of the Beloit College community and we

want students to be happy so we’re doing the best can while trying to recruit new

team members as aggressively as possible.

TR: What changes does Bon Appétit plan to make in the future, including fall

break and the spring semester.

KH: We’re constantly evaluating our services to see what we can do better, if not

right away then in the near future. Right now we’re evaluating feedback from last

week’s student meeting and from the student forum and sharing our ideas with

the College. Currently, our plans include opening a new barbecue concept at

Hamilton’s when we come back from fall break. We are also hoping to have

enough staff to open our pizza station again when everyone returns from break.

Once we’ve reviewed and discussed all of the feedback and options there may

be additional changes, though some of it will be contingent upon staffing.

Many students have said the meal service this year has been a particular

stressor for them this semester. Many are only eating one meal per day, or

just not using the meal plans they pay for at all. Are you aware of the

extent to which campus meals are affecting the well-being of students? 

We are sorry to hear that dining has been a particular stressor for students. The

dining program is an essential part of the community at Beloit and we

understand that having appealing options that fit students’ tastes and dietary

needs are essential for well-being. We want students to be happy with the

program and to want to come to the café every day. This is why receiving

feedback directly from students is so important. If you feel there aren’t options

that meet your needs in the café, please come talk to us. We can be flexible with

our offerings and can help you navigate the café to find stations that regularly

meet your tastes and needs.

TR: Many students are also upset that both dining options are far from the

academic side of campus. How does Bon Appetit plan to improve dining

options on the academic side?

KH: We are always evaluating our options for service in collaboration with the

College. The Canteen smart market was put in place to offer fast, fresh options

on the academic side of campus.

TR: Students have also raised concern about the lack of vegan and gluten free

options, and cross contamination in the kitchens among utensils and

such, and have even gotten physically ill because they have nothing else

to eat. Can you respond to this?

KH: We strive to offer multiple vegan, vegetarian, and made-without-gluten-

containing-ingredients meals in our cafés every day, which are labeled with our

Circle of Responsibility (COR) icons on our online and in-café menus. While we

do not currently have a station dedicated to meals made without gluten-containing

ingredients, we strive to have these options available at each café and hope to increase

the number of options when our supply chain can consistently offer the variety of

products we have previously enjoyed.

Cross contamination is one of the biggest challenges facing a self-service all-

you-can-eat concept. Bon Appetit has strict standards for managing cross-

contamination on our hot lines. For self-service stations, we have little control

over what other guests do. If you see the improper use of utensils, please

contact a manager immediately so that we can solve the problem.

If you’re looking for vegan, vegetarian, and options made without gluten-

containing ingredients (or any specific meal for that matter), I recommend

checking https://beloit-college.cafebonappetit.com/ in advance, where you can

filter by dietary preferences to see what’s available and make a plan. You can

also sign up for Menu Mail, which automatically emails you the day’s menu. I’d

also like to invite students who feel they still cannot find something adequate to

eat to come talk with me. I know we can do a great job of taking care of your

needs if we know more about what they are and what you’re looking for.

I also want to say that we take any reports of physical illness very seriously. If

you believe you have gotten sick because of food you consumed in the café,

please report it to the Director of Residential Life, Ryan Schamp or directly to us

so we can conduct a formal investigation. If you’re choosing foods that make you

feel ill because you feel you don’t have other options, please come talk with me

so we can make a plan to ensure you have options.

 

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