The grab-and-go salad bar at The Market at Heritage. Photo by Jesse Friedman.

Healthier food options on campus have forced Bon Appétit to increase the cost of food on campus. Rising costs, however, make local fast food joints generally more affordable for students. 

The dining experience at Azusa Pacific underwent significant changes last summer, as food management company Bon Appétit was hired to manage all on-campus eateries. While early reviews from students have been mostly positive, students are paying more for the improved experience.

Bon Appétit confirmed that many food prices on campus have been increased, but they maintain that the quality of their product justifies the difference.

“Although we work continuously with our vendors to minimize the effects of increased food costs, sometimes increases are unavoidable due to market conditions,” said Bon Appétit APU general manager Jennifer Carbajal. “To present a program at the Bon Appétit standard level of quality and service, our team did meticulously review offerings to cost-engineer items, exploring ways to maximize the quality and variety of our offerings.”

Bon Appétit is responsible for setting the prices for individual food items on campus, while dining services sets the prices for APU’s dining plans. Dining services declined to fulfill a request for food prices from previous years, but provided several examples of price changes.

Burger prices at the Cougar’s Den increased from $5.00 to $6.50 under Bon Appétit, but not without good reason, according to Carbajal.

We source grass fed hamburger from Mariposa Ranch as well as Certified Humane beef from Aspen Ridge, and brioche buns from Bread Artisan bakery, which is why we’ve raised prices on our burgers…but they are better for you, the community, and the environment,” said Carbajal.

Grab-and-go salads at The Market at Heritage and Paws ‘n’ Go increased from $5.25 to $7.25, but are now prepared in house. Grab-and-go sandwiches have seen a similar increase from $4.59 to $6.00. Pasta at the Cougar’s Den is also up a dollar from $6.75 to $7.75. 

However, while many items have gotten more expensive, others have gotten less expensive to compensate. Pizza at the Cougar’s Den, for example, is down to $7.75 from last year’s $8.50.

Carbajal expressed a willingness to keep prices competitive with those of previous years, while also acknowledging that Bon Appétit’s commitment to a high quality product made some increases necessary.

“Bon Appétit takes a very different approach to food preparation than Azusa Pacific’s previous food service provider,” said Carbajal. “Executive Chef Chito Rodriquez and the culinary team are cooking from scratch, including sauces, stocks and soups, and we’re buying better ingredients, such as locally grown, Certified Humane, Seafood Watch approved, etc.”

According to Carbajal, food costs across the industry increase by approximately 3% per year because of inflation. In addition, although Bon Appétit doesn’t pay student employees directly, they still include labor costs in their operating statement. As a result, they also had to account for this year’s $1 minimum wage increase across California.

Changes to dining plans

This semester’s set of dining plans consists of five options ranging from the Cougar Mini plan at $799 per semester to the Cougar Premium plan at $2,329 per semester. The cost of these dining plans increased by an average of 4.1 percent from last year. 

In return for purchasing a dining plan, students now receive spending power at on-campus eateries instead of dining points. Spending power is a dollar-for-dollar system that tells students exactly how much money they have to spend on food on campus. In recent years, every dining point was worth $2, which many students found confusing. Although this year’s dining plans cost an average of 4.1 percent more than last year’s, APU’s current dining plans can buy an average of 6.8 percent more food with each plan.

Is eating on campus worth it?

This raises the question of whether or not eating off-campus is more expensive as prices on campus continue to rise. 

While dining plans have become more cost-effective, APU’s on-campus food options are more expensive in many cases than similar off-campus options within walking distance. Chick-fil-A’s standard chicken sandwich entree costs $4.15 compared to the $6.00 sandwich at The Grill in Heritage. Popeyes’ new chicken sandwich is also just $3.99.

The Den’s grass-fed burger compares favorably at $6.50 to Five Guys’ $8.19 hamburger, but is significantly more expensive than In ‘N’ Out’s $4.35 Double-Double or The Habit’s $3.75 Original Charburger.

Meanwhile, the $6.75 wok bowl at The Grill is almost identical in price to a $6.70 bowl from Panda Express.

It should be noted that students using their dining plans do not pay tax on their on-campus food, which saves more than 9 percent on every purchase. Students with dining plans also get extra value for their investment. For example, the Cougar Traditional plan costs $2,070 per semester, but gives students a $2,230 credit to on-campus eateries. However, these benefits also come with the risk of overspending on dining plan.

Dining options at APU have improved under Bon Appétit by all accounts, but the rising cost of food on campus could cause some students to buy smaller dining plans and make more frequent visits to their favorite local fast food joints.