Dining Services Update

From Keith Archer:

Dear Knox Community,

In recent days, there have been various reports on social media and at a student forum that addressed dining services at Knox. I’d like to take this opportunity to address those specific issues and to ensure the Knox community that we are committed to providing the best possible dining experience for our students and community.

Before we go into details regarding the issues that have been raised, I’d like to review the origin of our partnership with Bon Appétit. In July 2015, Knox engaged Bon Appétit Management Company in a one-year contract to manage the College’s dining services operation. In consultation with the Knox community, including students, faculty, and staff, the College chose Bon Appétit because of its excellent reputation in higher education, particularly among many of our peer institutions, and because of the company’s commitment to environmentally sound policies and strong practices in using local food. Bon Appétit is also known for its use of fresh ingredients and for cooking from scratch in its kitchens, which was also an important consideration for the College and the health of our community.

As in any transition, there have been many improvements and some missteps along the way. Many members of our community have commented on the improved quality of the food. As Bon Appétit has introduced a new approach to preparing meals, issues have arisen regarding the labeling of food in Knox’s cafeterias. As more freshly made and fewer processed meals have been introduced, Bon Appétit has worked to create signage that is both visible and easily understood, but there is still room for improvement. We are partnering with Bon Appétit to improve their labeling system so that students can make informed decisions about their meals, and Bon Appétit is working closely with individual students to meet their nutritional needs. We also encourage any student with special dietary needs to contact Bon Appétit Executive Chef Jason Crouch directly at jrcrouch@knox.edu to create the best meal plan for them. Bon Appétit is known for its ability to serve large communities with a variety of nutritional needs, and we are confident that together we will resolve the issues that have been raised.

Health and safety concerns regarding kitchen operations and food storage have also been brought forward, including photos of the kitchen and storage areas. These photos were taken early in the transition process to Bon Appétit or at times immediately following a large product delivery. Upon delivery, products are stacked and staged in temporary locations until they can be placed in their proper areas. As recent as yesterday, January 21, dining services underwent an unannounced inspection by the Knox County Health Department. The result of that inspection was a score of 99 out of 100. The single point lost was due to a missing light cover in the basement storage area. Knox and Bon Appétit are committed to providing a safe and healthy dining environment above all else.

Issues have also been raised regarding the status and treatment of our employees. Knox’s employees are one of the College’s most valued assets, and we take seriously treatment and working conditions. Dining service staff remain Knox employees. Along with their colleagues in facilities services, they are members of SEIU Local 73. In November 2015, the College renewed their union contract, which was signed in good faith and extended for two years. The contract covers wages, benefits, and working conditions and provides mechanisms for grievances to be addressed within a collective bargaining framework.

We recognize that this transition is particularly challenging for our employees, who are working with new management and learning new ways to ensure best practices for kitchen and catering management. We continue to evaluate our staffing levels and make adjustments as needed and within budgetary constraints. I’d like to extend my appreciation and support to our loyal dining services staff, who are working every day to make this transition a successful one.

As I said above, our goal is to provide the best possible dining experience for our students and the Knox community, and we will continue to work closely with Bon Appétit, dining services staff, and students to ensure that we meet that goal. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments regarding dining services, I encourage to reach out to me at kaarcher@knox.edu. Your feedback is welcome and greatly appreciated as we plan for next year.