Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Underappreciated, Overworked: Life with Bon Appétit

August marked the beginning of my third year working at Whitman’s Cleveland Commons café. Overall, I really enjoy my job. I cherish the bonds I’ve formed with coworkers and the skills I’ve honed as a barista. As a part-time student worker, I see and hear about things that are hidden from other students. 

Beneath the surface lies a series of challenges which my full-time coworkers bear the brunt of. Stress mounts, especially during understaffed or understocked shifts, juggling smoothies, sandwiches, online orders, drinks and the cash register. Anxiety often runs high, particularly when our team operates with limited staff.

I don’t have the same responsibilities as the full-time workers, who are employed by Bon Appétit, a subsidiary of Compass Group. Compass is the largest contract food-service company in the world. In 2019 alone, they brought in over $20 billion in revenue. 

In recent months there has been a growing frustration amongst Whitman’s Bon Appétit workforce. I conducted interviews with six current and one former employee who shared their experiences and concerns under the option of anonymity to safeguard them from potential repercussions. Everyone except for a former employee from Jewett Café requested to stay anonymous. Their narratives echo a disconcerting pattern — a recurrent theme of feeling underappreciated, undervalued and overworked. 

The conversation began when an article from Colorado College’s student newspaper from 2022 resurfaced. Like Whitman, Colorado College contracts Bon Appétit for their cafeterias. The article, titled “Dining Workers Report ‘Culture of Fear’ at Colorado College,” resonated with Bon Appétit workers at Whitman. 

“In the Colorado interview, someone said something like it feels like we’re just numbers. It feels like that when I hear [our manager] making jokes like you don’t want days off,” said Ethan Smith.*

Smith recounted a time when they heard a higher-up joke about an overworked employee not liking days off. This employee hardly ever says no to extra work because of their financial situation, leading to physical and mental exhaustion. 

“‘You don’t like days off anyways, right?’ It’s just like, it just feels very disregarding to a human.”

Bon Appétit staff at Whitman have a mountain of responsibilities without the compensation to match it. If you go to Dutch Bros Coffee, all the employees have to do is take your order and make your drink. At the Café there are a lot more responsibilities without the extra pay to reflect it. Many workers have left to work elsewhere because of this.

Since most students go home for summer, winter and spring breaks, the cafés usually close down. That means employees end up losing months worth of pay. This pushed former employee Ashley Larson into debt.

“We have to go out and file for unemployment which is the bare minimum. I can’t pay my bills on that. Or you have to get another job. And that’s a whole other thing. They expect you to go out and get another job because they’re not going to pay you over the breaks. But then they get upset with employees for having another job, and then not being able to work their schedule,” Larson said. 

Everyone I interviewed had some experience of feeling blown off by their superiors. However, Larson doesn’t want to criticize managers or people in other higher positions without acknowledging the challenges that come with working for a multi-billion dollar corporation that prioritizes profit over the well-being of their employees.  

Larson recalled a time when Bon Appétit was trying to integrate more Coca-Cola products into Jewett Café, since Whitman has a contract with the company to carry a high percentage of their products. Whitman’s contract with Coca-Cola contradicts Bon Appétit efforts towards sustainability and healthy eating. 

“We don’t want Coke products,” Larson said. “They’re one of the worst contributors to our environment, we know this. And it’s all like corn syrup and sugar, and it’s so unhealthy and bad for you. And we know the students don’t want that, they want healthy options.”

Larson, along with other coworkers, decided to talk to students about the influx of Coca-Cola products and considered starting a petition to allow students to communicate directly with the Bon Appétit corporation.  

“And management was pissed. They* were infuriated. So [a manager] came over and was like, you can’t talk about this. You’re not supposed to say anything.”

Larson was told that they could not speak to the students about the Coca-Cola products being added to the café. 

“I was like, ‘no, you’re not going to tell me what I can and cannot talk to the students about.’ And they were stunned,” Larson said. “The students deserve to know and to have a say in what they are consuming.”

Larson said their superior acknowledged the corporate reality of a company like Bon Appétit, which preaches sustainability, to enter into contracts with Coca-Cola. 

“She was like, it’s like this everywhere. It’s at every college I’ve ever worked at, or any Bon Appétit company that she apparently has worked at. And she basically admitted that because of the money that Coke gives Whitman, they have control over it.”

Bon Appétit portrays an image of community-oriented practices that support sustainability, but in reality, many of its practices prove that they are just like any other corporation. The image of the family is compromised in instances like these, that prioritize profit over sustainability and transparency.

For example, if a staff member gets sick, their needs are often pushed aside to keep the cafes running. Another employee who I spoke with, Jordan Bennett,* recounted a time when they were not allowed to go home despite potentially contaminating food they were serving. 

“I was just coughing a lot the whole day and I’m like, this really is not a good look for the company. So I had anxiety when I was coughing, and I just felt tired. And so I asked, like multiple times throughout the day, like, ‘Hey, can I go home early? Is that even an option? I would really appreciate it if I could just leave early. Even just an hour early would be so, so good.’ And they kept just ignoring me and not acknowledging me, or even showing any sympathy,” Bennett said.“I would not want a coughing barista to be serving me coffee. But I was there because I had to be.”

I remember a time when one of my coworkers had a family member in the hospital and they didn’t know why. They were in a rush to finish their tasks so they could drive to the hospital. I urged them to go home immediately, but they felt obligated to complete their work before leaving. It’s instances like these that illustrate how workers feel chained to their job, prioritizing their work over personal needs. 

Larson notices that this phenomenon is not limited to hourly workers; it extends to higher-ups as well. 

“I don’t want to demonize anybody either. Even the higher-ups and management, even though I see a lot of corruption and people taking advantage of employees.”

People in higher positions can face the same exhaustion from being overworked. As a corporation, Compass’s Bon Appétit seeks to cut costs wherever possible, especially in labor, to maximize profits. It’s not uncommon for management to show up to work sick or on their scheduled days off. 

The main issue workers face is a lack of wage transparency and low pay. 

“I was having conversations about pay with coworkers and I found out that someone was getting paid less than me, even though they had been there longer and were in the same position as me,” Larson said. “They had a larger workload, and they were getting paid less than me. And they had to go and fight and have many conversations to get a raise with management. It happened with another coworker as well. I had a conversation with them about it and they were in a supervisor position and they were getting underpaid for their position.”

Larson found out they were also being underpaid when they resumed work in August 2023. 

“They had an online posting for my position because they knew I was leaving. I gave them a good amount of notice. I think like over a month … and online they had posted pay higher than what I was being paid.”

Another worker I spoke with has been promoted to a higher position but has yet to receive the financial compensation that comes with it. They have more responsibilities and more work under the higher position, and yet they are not being paid the proper wage under the new position. This has been going on for months. 

“I’ve been working as a [higher up position]. I haven’t been paid as one. That’s crazy,” they said.

The frustrations felt by many resonate with the sentiments expressed in the 2022 article from Colorado College. The feeling of being reduced to mere numbers, underappreciated and overworked, is a shared experience for Bon Appétit workers at various institutions. It’s disheartening to witness the prioritization of profit over the well-being of the employees who help shape the Whitman community. 

Workers deserve fairer treatment, more transparent policies and equitable compensation for their hard work. Bon Appétit and Whitman preach sustainability, community well-being and healthy living. It’s time for the company and the college to live up to these values, especially at a liberal arts institution that teaches students to fight for a more just system. 


Ethan Smith and Jordan Bennett are pseudonyms used to protect the interviewees’ identities.

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  • S

    Stay realNov 13, 2023 at 6:11 pm

    This is a great wake up call and I hope it empowers others to speak up as well. No one, even managers, should have to deal with such treatment. We are humans first. We have to work to live, not live to work.

  • U

    UNIONIZE BON APPETIT NOWNov 13, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    As a person who’s been associated with Whitman’s Bon Appetit for over a decade, I can assure you this column only scratches the surface of the deeply embedded inequities in this corporation’s practices. And it’s not just Whitman. It is absolutely a corporate problem; I’ve networked with several other BA employees at other institutions who’ve had similar experiences.

    There is very much a sense among BA staff that the Whitman community doesn’t care about them. The long-timers see Whitman students who are passionate about social justice stand up and demand change from the institution. However, this same passion is not applied to how the people at Bone- who literally feed students- are treated on a continuous basis.

    Compass Group routinely (and successfully) sends out union-busting propaganda and isn’t afraid to send a bigwig from corporate to enforce corporate law. A large number of Bon Appetit employees support dependents and are hesitant to even give the hint of organizing, they simply CANNOT afford to lose their jobs.

    If there is going to be change, it will have to be lead by the students… after all, they’re paying the bills.

  • J

    Julie CarterNov 13, 2023 at 9:42 am

    It is important to practice what institutions claim to stand for. Perhaps Whitman could consider hiring locals in the food service industry to provide food for students and discontinue working with Bon Appetite. Potentially it could be financially advantageous for the Whitman and Walla Walla community. Many, many colleges provide their students meal plans with Bon Appetite. I hope this important article is circulated widely.

  • D

    DanteNov 12, 2023 at 11:02 am

    This is all so true, thank you for this article. It’s definitely the roughest student work job on campus by a mile, and the pay disparity is definitely a problem, I remember experiencing inconsistencies semester to semester in terms of my hourly. O hope that you aren’t retaliated against for this article, BonApp, just like every other entity on this campus, deserves to be held accountable for their actions.

  • B

    BestNov 11, 2023 at 11:55 am

    This is a great article! Support workers, and talk to each other about your treatment at your job!

  • R

    Right on girlNov 10, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    I am so proud of you. It took alot of guts to right the truth. I feel so bad for the bon appetite employees and I do agree that Whitman College should get involved and make it better for the students has well has employees, and that bon appetite should open up their eyes and see that their employees are wonderful, they work hard, and they deserve the right amount of money that they are worth. They work so much harder than u would ever think.

  • O

    Oh.Nov 10, 2023 at 10:29 pm

    Pretty spot on, and only scratches the surface of questionable decision making behind both Bon App and Whitman.

    Great article! I hope people continue to have conversations about workplace conditions, not only at Bon Appetit, but everywhere.

    *Remember as you graduate and enter the workforce*


    Nothing will change if we stay complicit.

  • O

    ObviouslyNov 10, 2023 at 9:41 pm

    Thank you for writing this! It is so necessary to have this out in the open and it is disgusting that Whitman College does not require that better from Bon App. Employees deserve to be treated as human beings with the respect it entails.

  • S

    Shalimar CorryNov 10, 2023 at 3:54 pm

    I agree with every word of this

  • J

    Janine M. DonohoNov 10, 2023 at 1:19 pm

    Dear Lila-
    A working adult certainly would address your concerns to your supervisor. Perhaps you might try that?

    • B

      BeanNov 10, 2023 at 10:41 pm

      Their name is Lily. Also, as a former employee, I can attest that some of these issues have been expressed to management on many occasions, by many people over the years and STILL haven’t been addressed. I guess it’s easy for you to assume we aren’t competent enough to voice our concerns one on one before feeling the need to go public? This feels condescending. Just because we’re hourly food service workers doesn’t mean we’re stupid.

    • C

      COGNov 11, 2023 at 4:30 pm

      How nice it must be to be so privileged that you have the time to contribute such an entitled opinion on food workers at a local college.

    • D

      Don QuixoteNov 12, 2023 at 5:21 pm

      Perhaps science degrees and writing don’t lend one expertise in self-advocacy within a capitalist environment. Suggesting that the failures of management are the fault of those being managed is indeed shortsighted.

    • U

      UNIONIZE NOWNov 13, 2023 at 5:05 pm

      And what do you do when your supervisor is the one laying hands on you? Or demeaning you in front of the entire kitchen staff/building full of student? Report to corporate HR- whose only job is protect the corporation, not the employees? This isn’t just a one squeaky wheel problem. Its endemic within the corporation and will not change unless more people know about it and voice their discontent over the social inequities suffered by food services workers at this institution.

  • Y

    YouNov 10, 2023 at 9:14 am

    You have started a witch hunt for all bon app employees that are not favorites of upper management. I declined to interview and I’m already being accused of participating in this article and receiving threats.

    • D

      Don QuixoteNov 12, 2023 at 5:11 pm

      This isn’t her fault, or the fault of any Bon App employee that interviewed. It’s very gross and even a little suspicious that you would insinuate as much. Bon App dropped the first shoe when they neglected their employees in such a public venue.

      • Y

        YouNov 19, 2023 at 9:58 am

        Says you; coward, you are a favorite of management; they have bent over backwards & ignored rules for you! And you feign loyalty by showing up for work and anonymously interviewing with a school paper instead of voicing your complaints to the managers you hang out with all day. You felt comfortable being anonymous, knowing management would never question you; you aren’t receiving backlash/retaliation for something you didn’t do,