What is Elle Woods' famous message when she takes the stand for Bruiser's Bill? "Speak up, America; speak up." A handful of Santa Clara University students did just that upon returning for fall quarter and finding out one of our main dining options had been altered.
I should begin by saying Benson ain't so bad. Our dining services, located in Benson Memorial Center, strive to serve fresh, local, and sustainably sourced food. The salad bar, featuring vegetables from local farms, encourages Benson diners to be conscious consumers. Additionally, the Farm to Fork program strives to purchase 20 percent of ingredients from "small, owner-operated farms within 150 miles of [the] kitchen."
Benson also offers six main stations to grub during the week, complete with options from pizza to a Mexican grill to a daily special. Although I have heard complaints from my peers that Benson "just gets old" because the options are not that diverse, I struggle to hear these complaints, seeing as how our dining services strive to offer as much variety as possible to a relatively small student body while still being realistic.
As a self-defined creature of habit, I am entirely content constructing my weekly meals out of a couple options. I only had four or so different go-to dinners last year, one of which was my make-your-own sauté full of veggies and rice.
When I returned to Benson this year, I was crushed to find that "Sauté" as we knew it was gone. The build-your-own rice and pasta bowls that I had bragged to my friends about and relied on for weekly dinners were no longer an option. I was told that the new menu provided "more pasta options." The set up was about four pasta dishes, or "specials," that would remain available throughout the entire week.
My email to Charles explained that the build your own sauté was worth the wait, it had the potential for students to choose healthier meal options than the specials, and it provided that much needed variety within dining services. I received a prompt response telling me that my "voice matters." It felt pretty good.
By the Sunday after classes began, things were back to how they were last year. Actually, they were better. The salad bar now has snap peas, Brussels sprouts, grilled cauliflower, the occasional spaghetti squash, and more. Bon Appétit is always striving to add more veggie options, and this was the perfect time to push the program: to welcome back Sauté with the introduction of fresh veggies.
Management was primarily challenged with finding efficiencies in the dining system. The salad bar corner of Benson has a "bottleneck problem," according to Charles, where crowds of people swarm during concentrated times. They particularly saw a chance to expedite the lunch rush; all Broncos know that 11:45, 12:00 or 12:50 lines are killer. To carve Sauté customers out of the line for people who wanted raw salad or toast, the idea was to get rid of the cook-to-order option and introduce a new register aimed at simpler rice and pasta bowls.
College students like what we like, and being able to choose your own veggies for customizable orders was something we weren't willing to give up. We spoke up, and Bon Appétit listened. They put out signs saying "students have been heard. We listened" to encourage student feedback—both positive and negative—and to let people know of the impact they can have.
As Charles noted, the initial change was an error. Failure to fix it would have been a mistake. Charles values all student input, and while the "emails never stop," they are incredibly important to the future of the dining services. Within budgetary constraints, the goal is to say "yes" as much as possible to feedback from Benson patrons.
For my fellow Broncos, I encourage you to send compliments and suggestions to Bon Appétit. College food doesn't have to be sub-par.