By: Marian Baker, Staff Writer
As one of only a few members of the Class of 2017 cohort left on campus, I am in the minority of students who remember the Dining Hall before significant changes were made. As a result, when it comes to assessing the performance of our current food service contractor, Bon Appetit, I am one of the few remaining students who can can offer a perspective on the Dining Hall’s improvement.
When I arrived on Furman’s campus in the Fall of 2013, Furman’s dining services were provided by Aramark—three full years before their contract would be up and before they started pretending to have good service.
It was the dining hall of yore, before even the purple-tile renovation. The salad bar wound around the middle of the two kitchens, presumably in an attempt to invite even the pickiest of eaters to sample its cruciferous fare. There was no grill; instead, that space was occupied by Greek-affiliated tables and perhaps a townie or two, who, oblivious to the strict social norms that pervaded the hall, would plop their tray of food down there to eat.
Ah, yes, the trays. Before the renovation, the dining hall had trays. Nobody used the trays, lest others suspect that one was not capable of balancing their food, drink, and cutlery with their own two hands. Tray usage was socially stigmatizing and employed only by outsiders and brand-new freshmen.
Furthermore, there was very little appetizing fare to be found. If you had dietary restrictions, forget about it. Needed vegetarian options? There was the salad bar. Gluten-free? You might be able to find some Chex cereal. Vegan? You had two options: starve to death or get a meal plan exception.
The next year, things started changing, and the food got a little better. The dining hall was renovated; new stations were added. However, the structural instability that characterized Aramark’s management remained. Most dining hall employees looked unhappy and strained most of the time. Even as a student, you could tell the dining hall was not a good place to work.
Aramark’s final year, 2015 – 2016, was certainly its best; they did not go down without a fight. Yet, after experiencing a year at the dining hall under the management of Bon Appetit, I have to say that it is likely the most positive change that has happened at Furman in a very long time.
Where do I even begin? The wealth of options for those with dietary restrictions, the commitment to sustainability, the surfeit of healthy options, and the overall improved quality of the food’s taste all come to mind.
However, I think the most positive change has been the work environment. The majority of Bon Appetit’s employees do not seem to hate their jobs, at least as much as they seemed to with Aramark. I have had many positive experiences with Bon Appetit employees, and while I did have some positive experiences with Aramark employees, I can say that they are much livelier under Bon Appetit — employees are much less likely to seem stressed out of their minds.
For example, one chef at the Homestyle station noticed that I was a regular and never asked for meat, and when he is there, he will always let me know when there is meat hiding in something. Another chef will ask about the newspaper, and I’m always happy to tell him when the next issue is coming out. The bakers by the dessert station also love to tell you about their creations, and as a baker myself, I love to hear how they enjoyed making the specially decorated cupcakes and cookies. And of course, we all love the greeters who swipe our cards and try to learn all our names.
That is not to say Bon Appetit is perfect – it is not – but with the dining hall under their management, I have much more confidence that improvements will be made, and not just because their contract is going to be up for renewal.