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Bon Appétit pockets unused meal points at the end of each year

| News Editor

Point by point

11.4 million
Total meal points purchased between July 1, 2009-June 30, 2010

108,951
Unused meal points from 2009-2010 school year

18.27
Average unused meal points per person

The Bon Appétit Management Company pockets unused meal points at the end of each year, Student Life has learned.

About 1 percent of meal points purchased in undergraduate plans are returned to the food service company that operates dining halls on the Danforth Campus, according to Steve Hoffner, associate vice chancellor for operations.

In the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2010, undergraduates purchased a total of 11,382,712 meal points as part of predetermined meal packages. This number does not include food purchased via the Campus Card system.

At the end of the 2010 school year, students “forfeited” 108,951 points because they did not use all of them by the established deadline.

According to Hoffner, returning the points to Bon Appétit enables the company to keep prices low.

“If whatever points that are left at the end of the year were not going to the contractor, then the University and students would have to pay higher prices,” Hoffner said.

Josh Goldman | Student Life

Cooks prepare made to order stir-fry entrees at Bear’s Den on Sunday night. The unsued meal points returned to Bon Appétit at the end of each fiscal year help to keep food prices low.

Still, some students expressed concern when told by a reporter about the arrangement.

“That bothers me, but my friends in CS40 met with them, and apparently the money on extra points goes toward extra hours for workers,” freshman Emma Postal said.

Nadeem Siddiqui, regional manager for Bon Appétit, said that he simply wishes students used all their meal points.

“My ideal is that there would be no points left,” he said. “It’s less than a percent that is left at the end, and that number has gone down. That’s our preference, really.”

While some students might be shocked at the number of meal points that go unused, nearly 109,000 unused points is typical compared to previous years, according to Hoffner. On average, 18.27 points per student were forfeited, but most students used all of their meal points.

Hoffner said that the deal transferring all remaining meal points to Bon Appétit has been in existence since Dining Services first signed a contract with the vendor.

“Our contract with Bon Appétit specifies that unused points go to them, and they based their financial projections on this being the case,” he said.

Though Bon Appétit pockets the points at the end of the year, students may roll over meal points from the fall semester to the spring.

“We are very clear in telling students that their points can roll forward from the fall semester to the spring semester but that any points remaining at that time are forfeited,” Hoffner said.

Students said that the meal points should roll over from year to year.

“I thought it would be best if we got them next year,” said freshman Ignacio Ampuero. “It almost goes to waste. If you have extra, you’d get something back, because you paid for them.”

The transfer of unused meal points will not change, even though Dining Services is currently contemplating alterations in the undergraduate meal plan for the 2011-2012 school year. Dining Services will release possible changes in the University’s meal plans in the coming months as housing contract due dates near.

Hoffner said, “We think that a balance of approximately one percent when you’re talking over 11.3 million meal plan points is very, very reasonable.”

With additional reporting by Michael Tabb.

  • pwned

    At Cafe 4444 (medical campus) you can get a burger, fries, and drink for about $4. $4!!!!!. The medical campus uses a different food service. Comparing the Danforth Campus and the Medical Campus makes the price gouging obvious.

  • ___

    If you are not happy with the overall dining experience–including the quality and cost of the food as well as the hours of availability–go eat your meals at Fontbonne for a week and you will realize how great everything is here.

  • Meghan

    I understand concerns over Bon Appetit’s high pricing. Fair.

    A 1% “margin of error” essentially in terms of students overbuying meal points, or leaving them unused is extremely low. Approximately $18 in meal points per student unused? Pretty solid planning. However, both of these statistics are more dependent on the students buying points than Bon Appetit’s policy in any way. Freshmen, I get it. Sorry if you don’t want to participate in this system and have to. Living on campus and not having a car are consequences of this collegiate decision as well.

    I just want to remind these commentators about the nature of this article. It is not fundamentally about Bon Appetit’s high prices; they honestly try to do what they can for students. If you’ve met Nadeem, you know he is very truly concerned with the students his company serves and the product he delivers.

    Bon Appetit works extremely hard to provide benefits for its employees, and unprecedented environmental sustainability. I work closely with the organization, as part of the Leadership Team for Campus Kitchens. We salvage virtually no left overs from Bon Appetit. Why? They are so conscious of their purchasing, demand, and sustainability that they have very little margin of error.

    The system is flawed, most certainly and I support wholeheartedly a genuine and well-thought out critique of their practices. I just ask that you all keep in mind the job they have at hand and the cost of their operations, facilities, logistics, and management. They run an impressive operation. And if you have legitimate concerns, I can promise you that Nadeem or Chef Gary would be more than happy, genuinely happy, to talk to you about your concerns.

    • DTM

      I understand that this article was not primarily about Bon Appetit’s prices. However, by mentioning meal points and meal plans, I believe the editor has uncovered a sore spot regarding Bon Appetit’s high prices for many students–hence the unusually large number of comments on this article. While my previous post may have painted me as purely a vicious attacker of Bon Appetit’s practices, this is not the case. I commend Bon Appetit’s continued efforts for sustainability, community outreach, and fair treatment of their workers. In addition, I do not aim to blame Mr. Siddiqui, Chef Suarez, nor any other Bon Appetit employee, individually, for the high food prices. I have met Mr. Siddiqui, and yes, he is very open to students’ concerns. Unfortunately, these employees are caught in a much larger, flawed system that is causing the students’ discontent, and because of their position as administrators, they are the first students will turn to. However, I would argue that having to take the fire for Bon Appetit comes with their leadership positions in the organizational hierarchy. Perhaps they are not immediately to blame for high prices, but as directors of Bon Appetit, they are the ones who can bring changes in policy and practice.

      If I may go so far as to summarize the student body’s discontent with Bon Appetit, I would suggest that what we are really asking for is more transparency. At least once or twice a week, I see Bon Appetit directors giving tours and eating meals with what I presume to be VIPs. I doubt that Bon Appetit charges these guests for their meals, and in the end, students will be paying for the VIPs’ food. I understand the importance of good relations with donors and other patrons of the university, but do VIPs really visit that frequently? Also, I do not believe Bon Appetit’s extra spending on sustainability and other socially beneficial programs justifies their outrageously high prices. There are a large number of similar institutions and organizations that are also spending significant portions of their revenue on social programs, but do not charge nearly as much as Bon Appetit does. Therefore, it is reasonable for students to wonder what happens to all of Bon Appetit’s revenue. Clearly, students do not see justification for Bon Appetit’s high prices.

      This is due to the fact that Bon Appetit and students are not seeing each other eye-to-eye. More communication between Bon Appetit and the students and more transparency in Bon Appetit’s policies and practices, especially financially, would promote better understanding and collaboration between the two sides. Students should have more say in Bon Appetit’s policies, considering it is largely the sole provider of food on campus. It is in Bon Appetit’s best interests to begin a communication with students that would allow it to better serve its customers, and as a result, students would be more satisfied with Bon Appetit’s service. Happy customers means better public image and better revenues. Is this not ultimately Bon Appetit’s goal as a profit-seeking business?

  • Raj

    On one occasion, I left a card on the comment board indicating that we aren’t getting what we pay for (i.e. Bon Appetit is ripping off students–just see the examples in the comments below). The card was removed by the time I had waited in line to get my food and walked back by the comment board to the cashiers. Not only are they ignoring student input on price and portion size, they are deliberately censoring these comments.

  • DTM

    Has anyone else noticed that Bon Appetit has boxes for dropping comments but never responds to serious comments about portions being too small and the prices being too high? Even though there is clearly a space where you can ask for a manager’s response, Bon Appetit never has anything to say on comments involving price.

    Clearly, the primary method for voicing our opinions to Bon Appetit is being completely ignored. Many would probably agree that Bon Appetit’s near monopoly and high prices are a serious problem on campus. It is time for Student Union to listen to the student body on this matter and take action. I strongly encourage SU to create an online survey and send it to the student body to poll students’ opinions of Bon Appetit. In addition, I encourage my fellow students to contact their SU representatives and voice their complaints about Bon Appetit. SU is supposed to be the voice of the students, and since Bon Appetit is ignoring our opinions and the Wash U administration seems to always side with Bon Appetit, SU is the only way our discontent with Bon Appetit will ever be taken seriously. SU needs to start taking action on a matter that has been a major problem for years.

  • Anonymous

    Why does Bon Appétit have a near monopoly on food on campus? It’s clear that overcharging, falsely advertising prices, and stealing students unused meal points has become so obnoxious a problem that it needs to be addressed immediately. Maybe Subway and the new Einstein Bros. in the B-School will help out, but we need competition in food services on campus. Perhaps the Engineering school should follow suit and use a different provider than Bon Appétit for its new Lopata Cafe. I refuse to live on campus next year if forced to put up with Bon Appétit and their shenanigans.

    • Troy

      I think there’s a certain amount of price fixing going on. I’ve noticed that bottled soda costs $2 at subway, the same price that Bon Appetit charges. We’d need a lot of competition before we’d get a significant improvement that way, because these businesses know that they have an essentially captive client base, at least for most of the week.

      It’s also possible that Bon Appetit owns our local subway franchise. I’ve suspected this for a while, but I’ve never bothered to look into it.

  • capt. north star

    leave Demetrius out of this

  • Steve Smith

    @gsn:

    “There MIGHT be a small price differential in Bear Mart’s prices versus Schnuck’s…”
    –Actually, if you’ve been to Schnuck’s recently, there is a large price difference between Bear Mart prices and Schnuck’s prices.

    1 pound of strawberries at Schnuck’s: $3.99. 1 pound of strawberries at Bear Mart: 8.99 (meal points), $13.84 (equivalent cash value on Grab-a-Bite plan).

    Bag of 6 bagels at Schnuck’s: $1.99. Bag of 6 bagels at Bear Mart: 4.69 (meal points), $7.22 (equivalent cash value on Grab-a-Bite plan).

    1 gallon of milk at Schnuck’s: $2.69. 1/2 (half!) gallon of milk at Bear Mart: 3.09 (meal points), $4.76 (equivalent cash value on Grab-a-Bite plan).

    6 ounce cup of original Yoplait yogurt at Schnuck’s: $.79. 6 ounce cup of original Yoplait yogurt at Bear Mart: 1.65 (meal points), $2.54 (equivalent cash value on Grab-a-Bite plan).

    “it’s not even clear that we are paying more money than a comparable item would cost at a local cafe or restaurant.”

    –Actually, it’s very clear that we are paying more.

    9 ounce steak at Bear’s Den: 12.95 (meal points), $19.94 (equivalent cash value on Grab-a-Bite plan), and all you get is a piece of meat. At a restaurant, for $19.94, you can get at least a 9 oz. steak, a side or 2, and bread!

    Small pasta at Bear’s Den with chicken and broccoli: 6.94 (meal points), $10.66 (equivalent cash value on Grab-a-Bite plan). Kid-sized pasta at Macaroni Grill that’s actually a bigger portion than the small pasta at Bear’s Den (check it out yourself if you don’t believe me), with chicken and broccoli: $5.99. That includes a drink and refills (Bon Appétit technically charges for refills) and bread!

    “A solution for those who complain: Buy the cheapest meal plan. If you need more points, then buy more during the year, so you don’t end up with excess at the end.”

    –I admit, I’m complaining, but that’s because I’ve done the math. In addition, I’m already on the cheapest meal plan, and am running very low on points. Clearly, your “solution” is not a very practical one.

    **Note: equivalent cash value on a Grab-a-Bite plan was calculated by dividing the price you pay for the meal plan ($3498) by the amount of points you receive (2272) and then multiplying by the advertised price of the item for sale through Bon Appétit.

  • Rachel

    I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson here today. Freshmen, buy upperclassmen food.

  • R.

    GSN forgets the fact that students pay up to $1.54 per meal point for their meal plans. So your $5.25 “hot sandwich” actually costs up to $8.08. Add a small salad, and you’re paying $10.31 (with the smallest on-campus meal plan), and that doesn’t even include a drink. As another comparison, the Stir Fry at the DUC costs $5.90, or up to $9.08 in real non-meal points money. For this price, you can get about double the quantity of food at a much higher quality at Bobo Noodle House (at the corner of Skinker and Forest Park Pkwy). They deliver to WashU and offer a student discount, for those interested.

  • gsn

    This is just to respond to “yeah, OK.” below.

    Bon Appetit does not operate a grocery store, like Schnucks. Bon Appetit’s operations on WU’s campus have their own unique costs that probably more closely resemble a restaurant than a grocery store. And, this is a “restaurant” that has multiple kitchens and cooking stations — tandoori oven and mongolian grill, anyone?

    Considering this, I believe that Bon Appetit has reasonably low costs. A burger costs, what, $3.25? $5.00 for a hot sandwich? I believe that the specials (main course, two entries) usually costs around $6.00. The vegan, glutton-free, and kosher items are also far cheaper than their counterparts would be at restaurant.

    For the most part, on WU’s campus, you are not “buying” food to make on your own. You’re purchasing food that is made to order, at a very high quality, and more and more likely to be locally grown and sustainably produced (cage-free eggs, strict seafood guidelines, etc). Sure, there is Bear Mart, but Bear Mart is a small little market… not a huge operation like Schnuck’s. You cannot compare the two at all. There MIGHT be a small price differential in Bear Mart’s prices versus Schnuck’s, but, again, they are more different than similar.

    Our dining service is among the best in the country because of it’s quality, variety, and extent. I would EXPECT to pay a little bit of a premium for this — but it’s not even clear that we are paying more money than a comparable item would cost at a local cafe or restaurant.

    Finally, on a more logical point, you are buying these meal points. Buy what you can eat. You effectively buy about 3,000 points worth of food for the year. It’s like going to a restaurant and you don’t eat your full dinner. The restaurant isn’t going to refund you 1% of your purchase price because you had a few bites left on your plate.

    A solution for those who complain: Buy the cheapest meal plan. If you need more points, then buy more during the year, so you don’t end up with excess at the end.

  • Yeah, OK.

    “According to Hoffner, returning the points to Bon Appétit enables the company to keep prices low.”

    Nice try. I’ll believe that when I don’t have to pay $9 for strawberries in Bear Mart, or an extra $3 if I want pot stickers with my stir fry. Maybe they should take a walk through Schnuck’s and see how much things cost out here in the real world.

    If they don’t think their food isn’t already ridiculously expensive, I’d love to see what Bon Apetit thinks is a high price.

  • mdh

    This isn’t news… this same story crops up every few years. Student Life “learned” the same thing back in 2005 if I recall.