On Feb. 21, Student Council sent out an all-stu email with their weekly meeting minutes. The email was short, and it was easy to miss the phrase, “The AVI contract is up — to be renewed this summer without much change,” that slipped in almost like an afterthought. Though it’s not entirely confirmed that the contract will be renewed, this is a scary notion; AVI has been consistently underperforming and failing to meet the needs of Kenyon students in ways which have become more apparent than in recent years.
AVI is contracted to provide meal services to all Kenyon students, and maintains contractual rights over all food and beverage service in the vicinity of Peirce. In theory this relationship is beneficial to both AVI and Kenyon, as AVI Foodsystems, Inc. (the seventh-largest foodservice provider in the country, according to the website Food Management, with annual revenue of $625 million in 2015) can leverage economies of scale to provide food service for a lower cost than an in-house alternative, and Kenyon can guarantee a customer base of 1,711 students who will pay for 20 meals per week across the academic year. The unfortunate truth of this happy alliance, however, is that Kenyon students get the short end of the stick.
AVI has shown time and again that they are unable to properly accommodate students with food allergies. Common complaints include a lack of transparency regarding the ingredients that go into food at Peirce (if not outright mislabeling of foods leading to medical incidents) and mistreatment of students with food allergies. AVI also has problems maintaining a large enough staff. Employees have complained in the past about working conditions, and AVI has had an abysmal employee retention rate. The March 31, 2016 Collegian issue last year reported that “roughly 40 percent [of new employees] quit within the first month.” This manifests as a poor experience for students in the form of closed stations, long lines and undercooked rice. And the issues don’t stop there. Peirce Pub has had difficulty operating due in part to AVI understaffing, and Kenyon isn’t allowed to find an alternate food service provider because its contract with AVI guarantees AVI the rights to food and beverage service in the venue.
So what do we do? We need to engage our Student Council representatives to push the Kenyon administration for changes to the AVI contract. Students who have difficulty eating at Peirce should be able to easily opt out of the meal plan, as opposed to the current system mandated by the Kenyon-AVI contract, whereby students are forced to meet incredibly difficult standards of proof to be removed from the meal plan. For those who choose to remain on the meal plan, AVI should be required to comply with allergen labeling and handling systems similar to those in place at other colleges, and failure to comply should be met with contractually agreed upon financial penalties. AVI should be forced to maintain a larger workforce to run Peirce at peak efficiency, and if they can’t hire enough workers they’ll need to reevaluate their working conditions and pay practices — after all, Mount Vernon has many restaurants who are more than able to hire enough workers.
If AVI can’t — or won’t — agree to these demands, they should be replaced. It’s important to remember that Kenyon has served food out of Peirce for a long time, and AVI is in no way uniquely capable of operating Peirce.
Ben Gross ’19 is a physics major from Decatur, Ga. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.