Bon Appetit hosts “Cafonomics”

On Tuesday, Oct. 20, students gathered in the Sun Ballroom for the presentation “Economics of the Caf” given by Midwest Fellow of Bon Appetit Amanda Wareham and St. Olaf’s very own Bon Appetit Board Manager, Randy Clay. The event, sponsored by the Financial Literacy Committee, aimed to give students an inside look at how Bon Appetit operates financially, and more specifically how Stav Hall runs.

“I think any opportunity we have to teach people how we operate, we like to do that,” Clay said.

Clay opened the presentation by addressing a common misconception on campus regarding the daily cost of our meal plans, which is roughly $2.96 per plate.

“The typical response I see – I’ve seen it on comment cards several times this year already – is that basically your meals cost about $10 apiece…The economic reality is that the money you pay through the school for your board plan is shared between Bon Appetit and the school. We do not get all that money to spend on food. In reality we get a portion of that money, roughly half, to run our entire operation from the top down. That includes all our salaries, payroll, purchasing your food and preparing your meals,” Clay said.

St. Olaf students are often busy, and it isn’t unusual to miss a couple of meals a week. Many students wonder why their missed meals don’t rollover into the next week or why they don’t get the extra money back at the end of the semester. Stav reports that students on average use only 75 percent of their allotted meals each week. This is called the “missed meal factor,” and it is incorporated into Stav’s food preparation schedule.

“If we had to base our purchasing and our prep on 100 percent usage of meals, it’s a much different meal plan, it’s a much more expensive meal plan,” Clay said.

Wareham’s half of the presentation focused on Bon Appetit as a whole, explaining some company-wide policies and talking about how the company makes a concerted effort to buy from local farms.

“As a company we wanted to take a stand against this consolidation of farms, and the way we strategized to do this was by creating our Farm to Fork program in 1999,” Wareham said. “With the Farm to Fork program, we use 20 percent of our budget in each of our cafes. So 20 percent of the money here at Bon Appetit St. Olaf is spent on ingredients from small, local farms. So that means owner-operated farms within 150 miles of the cafe, with less than $5 million in annual revenue.”

After the presentation, Wareham and Clay had an open Q&A session with the audience, and much of the time was spent discussing the recent egg shortage and Clay’s plea to students to return their plates and mugs.

“You can still get eggs at the tortilla station, but Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday you can’t get an omelette. Well guess what happened? Our egg use went up… After the first six weeks we’ve gone through more liquid eggs,” Clay said.

Clay had been warned before the beginning of the semester that there would most likely be egg shortages, so he and the chefsdiscussed what breakfast alternatives could be offered instead of omelettes.

“We’re probably going to add omelettes back on there, because you all are seemingly more willing to wait in line for an omelette,” he said. “Because it’s cool and you like Carla and you get to pick your own stuff. It’s an omelette, I guess. It’s funny because we can actually spend less money having an omelette station than by doing it the way we’ve been doing it. So lesson learned.”

Unprompted, Clay launched into a lengthy discussion on the student body’s habit of hoarding cafware in their rooms.

“One thing that I wish we didn’t have to spend your money on, but we do, year after year after year: coffee mugs.”

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