Why AVI needs to listen to the needs of students, or “Viva la Deli”!


Courtesy/James Lacefield

The former Saint A’s favorite, now a sushi preparation and packaging station.

Jacob Akey, Crier Staff

Reduced hours, limited selection, slipping quality, price hikes: these were the fears of SAC students when it was announced that an outside vendor would be taking over on-campus dining. As of September 2021, these fears are reality.

Saint Anselm College chose AVI Food Services as its dining provider in late Spring 2021. AVI (the acronym apparently does not stand for anything) is a monstrous conglomerate of over seventy individual companies with 529 million annual revenue. Its operations stretch from sea to shining sea and reach deep into the medical and education industries. It was foolish to believe that a company such as AVI could ever provide the quality that the Saint Anselm College community has come to expect.

The issue is worse than a few disappointing meals. For one, Saint Anselm College is (or was) famous for the quality of its food. Last year you would be strained to find a single student who did not cite the food as a top reason for attending. No longer. The decline is stark enough that it could begin to have real-world impacts on admissions. Additionally, Saint Anselm students are entitled to a certain quality of food. Students are forced to buy expensive meal plans as part of their housing, and even if they wanted to go off-campus to eat, the College makes it costly and difficult to bring a car. AVI dining services has a captive consumer base, and therefore it has some responsibility to those consumers. Canned marinara sauce, frozen food (basically anything fried), and mozzarella-less mozzarella sticks don’t cut it. At the prices C-Shop charges for the house honey-mustard, it should actually be house-made, not just Ken’s Dijon repackaged.

The worst offense of AVI is closing the deli and replacing it with a station for packaging sushi. It might be difficult for Freshmen and non-students to understand the impact of the deli’s closure, but it was a staple in many SAC student’s diets. While some preferred other options, many students bought a sandwich from the deli every day. Every sandwich, sub, and wrap was made to order and was fully customizable. That versatility is something the sushi station sorely lacks. Love it or hate it, you cannot eat sushi seven days a week.

AVI has excused such cost-cutting measures as necessary due to labor shortages. However, if AVI was unable to fulfill the food service needs of Saint Anselm College, they should not have placed a bid on the dining service contract. Another offense is the price hikes apparent since the beginning of the semester. Food prices have never been cheap here at Saint Anselm (smoothies at C-Shop were downright extortionate!), and the recent increases have hit hard. Three dollars for an iced tea is just too much. AVI attributes the price increase to rising food costs. A variety of goods have seen prices rise over the past month, and AVI is likely feeling some of that cost. However, it certainly feels like the brunt of the burden has been passed on to students.  

What can be done to make things right? How can Saint Anselm College regain its reputation for excellent food? For one, AVI should bring back the deli station. Perhaps a sushi bar sounds good to administrators looking to expand “global” options, but the deli station brought with it versatility and low-cost options. Secondly, it is entirely inappropriate for Coffee Shop to charge such exorbitant prices for frozen and pre-made food. AVI must either lower prices or increase the quality of food served. Finally, Davison Hall needs to be fully staffed, especially around peak hours. College students are predictable. There will be a rush every weekday at 12:30 when classes let out. AVI needs to account for this and hire accordingly. Anything less is an insult to the students who pay thousands of dollars a year to eat here.

I understand that the College needed to make an immediate decision regarding dining services last semester. It is also possible that some of the issues we have seen thus far are simply kinks to be worked out. Perhaps one day AVI Food Services will be a treasured member of the Saint Anselm community. I have heard rumors that the deli station is coming back, and AVI has certainly made good-faith efforts to hire student workers. But, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, in the turkey, lettuce, and swiss on toasted ciabatta.