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
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
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.