The true quality and cost of Bon Appétit explained

Brian Messing, Editor-in-Chief

Emma Dobbs, Managing Editor

Nicholas Sarysz, Section Editor


In a previous article published by The Belltower on Oct. 28, 2019, the following question was asked about Bon Appétit: Fresh and sustainable, but at what cost? The October 2019 article laid out the prices for meal plans and items offered on campus, comparing them to other four-year private universities in Washington. The thesis of the article was that Bon Appétit provided superior quality products and services, for high prices. 

Bon Appétit is widely known around campus for the quality food services they provide to Saint Martin’s students and faculty. One of the company’s main focuses is to provide the community with fresh and sustainable meal options. Bon Appétit Executive Chef, Matt Alspaugh, explained that sustainability plays a large role in how Saint Gertrude’s Café operates. 

“Sustainability is about reducing your carbon footprint,” Alspaugh explained, “because everything we consume comes from somewhere. Every job in the process of bringing food to you, the consumer, is important: The growing, soil, animals, farmers and those that deliver it.” 

Bon Appétit emphasizes getting fresh and sustainable foods from local sources, which came about in 1999 when the company launched their “Farm to Fork Program.” As listed on the Bon Appétit website, this program requires chefs “to source at least 20 percent of their ingredients from small, owner-operated farms, ranches, and artisan producers within 150 miles of their kitchens.”

Although working within the modern food supply would be a cheaper alternative for Bon Appétit, it has many hidden costs, such as: environmental pollution and workers abuse, both of which go directly against their company’s values. 

“Sustainability is a big part of us as people,” explained Operations Manager, Kerri Mahoney, “Our commitments to sustainability include things such as getting seafood off of Seafood Watch, making sure our disposables are compostable, and just being as streamlined as possible.” 

Seafood Watch is a program operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif. The aquarium produces a sustainable seafood advisory list, highly regarded by culinary programs around the world. 

As an Operations Manager for Bon Appétit, Mahoney is in charge of their “food for your well-being” campaign. 

She explained, “We try to do some sort of ‘pop up,’ or event, once a month. We have set corporate themes that are created by corporate nutritionists and dietitians. We incorporate these, and do our best at spreading the word of our themes.”

On top of this, Bon Appétit continually strives to make improvements to their well-being commitments. 

“We are always trying to incorporate healthy options into our food. It is a part of our standard operating procedure, putting in fresh and healthy ingredients in a healthy manner. We try to present meals with a normal feel, but a healthy incorporation,” described Alspaugh. “Specifically; we have promoted our new meatless Mondays, and we continue ‘menu-ing healthy,’ keeping our smaller proportion sizing.”

Mahoney expanded on the topic, and mentioned, “There is no pulling back on commitments at a corporate level. We are continually adding to our commitments in a focused manner. Things such as reducing our carbon footprint by releasing a meat dish occasionally for one that’s plant based. We’re constantly trying to push the envelope.”

However, high quality services come at high costs. In the Belltower’s Oct. 28 article, the editorial board prepared an analysis comparing the cost of meal credits at Saint Martin’s to other four-year private universities.

At Saint Martin’s, a meal credit costs between $26.00 and $40.56, depending on the meal plan. Other four-year private universities in the state of Washington charge considerably less for a meal credit. Meal credits at these universities, such as Pacific Lutheran University, Whitworth University, and Seattle Pacific University, cost as little as $6, and as much as $16. Why the variance in price? 

The Belltower has received several documents on the printer in our office from an unknown source. These documents help to shed light on some of the questions that were posed in the Oct. 28 article.

One document that was received was a budgeted income statement for Bon Appétit’s business at Saint Martin’s. An income statement is a financial statement that shows an organization’s revenues, less expenses, which equals profit or loss. A budgeted income statement is a projection of the previously mentioned statement over a period of time. In this case, October 2019 through September 2020. 

As a business, Bon Appétit plans to earn $3,839,972 from its Saint Martin’s location between October 2019 and September 2020. Food and supplies is projected to cost Bon Appétit $1,199,561. Personnel costs are expected to hit $2,260,878, and operating expenses total $331,760. This leaves Bon Appétit with a profit of $47,773, or 1.2 percent of their total revenues.

Is this normal for the food service industry? To answer this, the Belltower interviewed a business owner in the food service industry, who is also a certified public accountant. 

According to the business owner, “Most business[es] in the food service industry have between a four and nine percent profit margin.” 

When asked about what percentage of revenue direct labor usually costs, he replied: “The target is for the mid-20’s,” or around 25 percent. 

When asked about how much management typically makes, the business owner stated: “We pay our manager $50,000, per year, plus tips when they are also serving.” 

Additionally, according to a common-size income statement for the food service industry, food typically costs between 28 and 32 percent. On Saint Martin’s campus, Bon Appétit spends just over 31 percent of its revenues on food and other related supplies. 

The larger variances on the income statement come from the personnel section. Bon Appétit spends nearly 59 percent of its revenues on personnel and management. 

Bon Appétit, which lists four managers for its Saint Martin’s location on its website, plans to spend $513,559 in an account labeled: “Management and Administration,” and another $60,579 in another account labeled: “Management Labor,” for a total of $574,138, or about 15 percent of their total revenue. According to a common-size income statement for the industry, these accounts usually do not exceed 10 percent of total revenue.

Bon Appétit employs around 70 people, including students, on campus. All cooks make a combined $505,825, and all servers make a combined $282,790. It is also worth noting that none of these figures include money for vacation pay or taxes and benefits, since those are listed as separate accounts on the income statement, also in the personnel section. 

The Belltower also received Faculty and Staff satisfaction surveys conducted by staff of Bon Appétit for the 2018/2019 academic year and the 2019/2020 academic year on its printer. These surveys show how the various stakeholders: faculty and staff, perceive Bon Appétit on campus. 

Faculty and Staff were surveyed in the areas of service, drink quality, food quality, value, variety, cleanliness and hours, in regard to the Monk’s Bean, Catering, and Saint Gertrude’s Café. 

Of staff and faculty members surveyed for the 2018/2019 academic year, nearly 35 percent of those surveyed marked that they were very satisfied with service at the Monk’s Bean. Around 27 percent of those surveyed stated that they were satisfied. Of staff members surveyed for the 2019/2020 academic year, 25 percent stated they were very satisfied, while 35 percent indicated satisfaction. 

While 8 percent stated they were neutral on the topic of service, just over 31 percent of staff cared not to answer the question.

For the 2018/2019 academic year, cleanliness at the Monk’s Bean was most highly ranked, with nearly 46 percent of participants marking they were very satisfied. 

For the 2019/2020 academic year, cleanliness fell to just below 32 percent of very satisfied participants. Cleanliness was most highly regarded by those surveyed for the 2019/2020 academic year; service ranked next at 25 percent very satisfied. 

The lowest rate of satisfaction remained the same for both academic years: Only 14 percent of those surveyed expressed they were very satisfied with the value at the Monk’s Bean, with the percentage dropping to 8 percent the following year. 

One commenter mentioned the high costs of food at the Monk’s Bean, stating that they “rarely use [Saint Martin’s] food services because of the excessive cost.”

Several participants commented on the Monk’s Bean’s hours of operation, with one faculty member stating that “our classes are in the evening and therefore cannot access services here most of the time.” 

Another commenter stated that “the hours during breaks and summer need to be relooked at,” mentioning that “there are still staff, faculty, and students here during those times that could really use this service, especially when the café is on short hours.”

For Saint Gertrude’s Café and Coffee Bar, 33 percent of participants expressed dissatisfaction regarding the value of products offered.

One commenter stated that they “can’t afford the food there, though it is good.” 

Another participant commented that food was “very expensive” and that it is “cheaper to eat off campus.” 

Almost 63 percent of participants expressed that they were very satisfied with the service at Saint Gertrude’s café. 

One commenter wrote, “Students/staff are always upbeat and friendly” and that “as a faculty member [they’ve] been continually impressed by the staff interaction with students.” 

Despite positive interactions with staff, commenters still pointed out that “food is overpriced,” and that food services are inaccessible. 

Although Bon Appétit has continually made improvements to their menu choices, many individuals have expressed concern over the lack of options during dinner hours at Saint Gertrude’s Café.

One surveyor commented, “I think the lunch time variety is unbelievable (I always have a hard time choosing because there are so many great options!), but the dinner time variety is very limited.”

In response to a similar issue brought up in the Belltower’s interview with Bon Appétit, Chef Alspaugh explained, “A lunch model would never be able to keep up with dinner; however, I think you will be happy with the changes in the next couple months.”

For the 2019/2020 academic year, 25 percent of faculty and staff participants expressed that they were not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the value of catering services provided by Bon Appétit. 

One commenter simply stated, “don’t order catering,” while another elaborated, explaining that from an employee’s perspective, “the cost of catering is becoming harder and harder to manage.” This same commenter called Bon Appétit staff to action, asking staff to “retool [their] prices or give us more permission to have other food service options.” 

This comment pulled the issue of using outside providers front and center. Bon Appétit has remained unclear on whether staff, faculty or students hosting events can order food off campus. 

A survey participant stated that “there are far better, less expensive caterers available” in comparison to Bon Appétit’s catering service. Carole Ann Beckwith, General Manager of Bon Appétit at Saint Martin’s, declined to comment on both the income statement and satisfaction surveys.


  • Couple of observations/questions. First, you compare the large difference in meal credits between SMU and other private schools—Are meal credits comparable –in other words, do customers receive similar food service per meal credit as the various schools. Next, you cite the “budgeted income Statement” received from an unknot source. Were you able to independently verify the accuracy of this data from another source? I would be suspicious of information “showing up on our printer from an unknown source”—without independent verification .

    • First, while there may be some variance in meal credits from institution to institution, as every institution is different, during our research we found that meal credits were generally comparable.

      Second, yes, we were able to independently verify the accuracy of the budgeted income statement from multiple sources.

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