JEFF SYBERTZ ’13
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article thanking the Trinity employees who worked so tirelessly to keep this institution running after the February snowpacalypse. The Chartwells employees who braved the terrible weather to feed us were among workers to whom we should all be grateful. Although many of us have very strong relationships with a number of Chartwells employees, the overall public opinion of Chartwells as an organization is overwhelmingly low among the student body. Some complain about the quality of food, others about the unavailability of healthy or alternative foods, and others about how busy the three areas get during the peak lunch and dinner hours. However, all of these factors are to be expected of a typical college dining service.
The real reason why there is so much discontent for Chartwells as an organization among the student body is the blatant price gouging done on seemingly a daily basis. Examples of this price gouging include having incredibly limited services during non-holiday periods, cutting the hours of the more popular dining locations, over charging for convenient and healthy options, and having a virtual monopoly on all major food sales on campus. Even though most of us have tremendous relationships with Chartwells employees, the organization must address these issues if they want to truly regain the approval of the student body.
Although it is not the first to bemoan the services of our food service provider, this article was motivated by a recent trip to the Bistro this past Sunday. I went there expecting a simple Sunday dinner after a thesis and job application-filled weekend. To my surprise and anger, there was a sign on the door saying that the Bistro was closed in observance of the Easter holiday.
Disappointed, I made the long walk to Mather only to find an incredibly limited selection characterized by lukewarm food. Although I recognize that Easter is an important holiday to many people and that a large number of Trinity students go home to have a meal with their families, not all students have the opportunity or desire to go home and I do not think that they should be subjected to second-class dining services.
Unfortunately, the Easter holiday is not the only example of times when Chartwells’ services are incredibly limited. Another instance of these limited services comes during Trinity Days. During these days, when the college is still open but classes are not held, Mather’s food selection is limited and the Cave and the Bistro have severely shortened hours. Once again, I recognize that many students like to go home during this long weekend. However, many other students stay on campus because home is too far away or they want to use the extra days to catch up on work. In fact, the college actively encourages students to stay on campus and not use the days as a vacation. However, those who choose to stay are once again forced to bear second-class dining services at hours that may not be conducive to their schedules.
Finally, both the Cave and the Bistro close nearly a week before final exams end. During the time when people’s schedules are the most hectic, they cannot go to the more convenient dining locations because Chartwells wants to close early and pay fewer workers to keep the services running. Given the thousands of dollars that we shell out to Chartwells every semester, we deserve a dining service that is at least close to fully functional throughout the times when the college is in session.
Another point of discontent among the student body of Chartwells is the inconvenience of the hours of operation. Although Bistro Late Night has been a huge success and an example of Chartwells implementing a successful reform after listening to the student, the weekend hours of the dining services are inexcusable. Not a single dining location is open before 10:30 a.m. Yes, the weekend is meant to relax and sleep in a little bit but the fact that there is no food available before 10:30 a.m. promotes unhealthy eating habits and more late night customs.
Overcharging for convenient or healthy goods is another example of the disconnect between what we students are paying for and what we are receiving. Some of the most popular goods that the Cave and the Bistro sell are Greek yogurt and Cliff Bars. Because these two products are non-Chartwells’ brands and Chartwells has a virtual monopoly on the sale of food services, the company can sell the product for more than four times the price of the same good at the grocery store. For example, Fage Greek Yogurt is sold for approximately $1 at Stop & Shop or Whole Foods. At the Cave and the Bistro: $4. Cliff Bars will run you about $1 at a normal grocery store, but approximately $3.29 at the Cave and Bistro.
Considering these products are likely bought from a wholesaler in bulk, Chartwells is reaping an incredibly lucrative profit by selling these goods that are both healthy and convenient. Another recent implementation that we have all noticed at the Cave and Bistro has been the extra charge for extra meat, bacon, extra cheese, or sweet potato fries. For a measly two to three pieces of bacon, it is an extra $2.50. This blatant extortion is infuriating, especially since Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors, and a large majority of Seniors are forced to be on the meal plan either through decree or because there is a lack of an alternative.
Ironically, the Trinity College Administration appears to be responding very well to student discontent with the dining services on campus. However, this refreshing response has largely alienated Chartwells. By adding alternative dining options in the new Vernon Social Center that will provide more food than a coffee shop spread and building new townhouse-style dorms in which students may actually want to live, it appears that students will have the option to say no to Chartwells.
If Chartwells wants to avoid losing further support, they must implement some changes. Along with improving some of the features discussed above, the blatant price gouging must change. Once again, this article is not an indictment of the Chartwells employees with whom we all interact every day. These employees love their jobs and the students with whom they work. Many of them are also often displeased with the price gouging forced upon them by higher management.
Yet, they still do what they are required to do tirelessly and with a smile on their face. If the company continues to upset both its employees and the student body, fewer people will utilize its services and Trinity College may consider making the permanent reforms that Chartwells has been reluctant to enact.