Cafeteria Disasters

By: Caleb Klemick –

On March 9th, AVI Foodsystems unexpectedly announced that it would no longer serve students who had a negative balance in their lunch account. This is a change from the beginning of the year to now, when students could be up to $10 in debt and still buy lunch. But, on March 9th, while the signs informing students that they could be up to $10 in debt were still posted, the cafeteria suddenly, shockingly, refused service to nearly 70 students who had negative lunch balances.

Sophomore class Senator Robert Gigliotti says, “This kind of surprise is an outrage! There was no warning made to anyone; on top of that, there were still three signs posted that said you could still go down to $10 [in debt]. I think we should be better informed in the future for situations like this. It was sad to see how many people were struggling to find money to pay off their lunch account and people who couldn’t buy lunch at all. It was also sad to see the looks on the faces of the cafeteria workers when they had to refuse service to someone.”

The account balance restriction isn’t the only policy being changed unexpectedly. An email sent to the student body by AVI Foodsystems’ Resident Director for Seton – La Salle Ed Pockl, stated, “If you have a negative balance over $10, … our staff can make you a PB&J or Cheese Sandwich for two days in a row.”

Sophomore Cullen Vereb said, “Today I saw a few of my friends who were over $10 in debt and were refused service. So they asked if they could have a sandwich made for them, like it said in the email that Mr. Pockl sent. But, the cafeteria [workers] wouldn’t even do that.”

AVI refutes the point Vereb is making. During an interview with Mr. Pockl he said, “The allegation that we were refusing students service is not true. We aren’t going to refuse a student lunch.”

But, the same day of that interview, Sophomore Madisyn Haney went up to the cafeteria line to purchase lunch. Unfortunately, Haney’s account was negative and she was refused service. Haney said, “They told me I needed $4. They told me to go ask someone for money. … I wasn’t even offered a sandwich.”  

Freshman Trevor O’Donnell had a similar experience. “I had to use someone else’s account. They wouldn’t give me any food.”

Freshman Julian Jimenez also claims the cafeteria turned him away. He said, “Yeah, they said I couldn’t eat. I wasn’t allowed to eat on Wednesday or Thursday.”

Finally, Senior Brendan Joyce has not been able to eat since the new policy abruptly went into effect. “My account is exactly even, but I haven’t been able to eat in three days. They won’t let me eat until my account is positive.”

According to longtime, beloved cafeteria employee Mrs. Maria Christopher, this is a violation of cafeteria protocol. “The cafeteria will offer the student a sandwich … if they are negative.”

In addition, Freshman James Sanchioli reports that on March 9th, during his lunch period, Mrs. Christopher made a general announcement to all students in line refusing service to customers with negative balances. He heard Christopher shout to the assembled students, “If you have a negative balance, we can’t serve you today.”

A few weeks ago, The Rebel Report administered a representative survey of sophomores, juniors, seniors, and members of the faculty. In this survey, amongst other things, participants were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with certain statements.

When asked about the statement, “I always know how much I’m paying for lunch every day,” 0% of the school agreed. Not one respondent could confidently say that they knew how much they paid for lunch every day. 84% of the school could not agree that they knew how much their daily lunch cost, and 16% of the school found themselves with no strong opinion.

When asked if students had ever gone more than $10 in debt (which was AVI’s old account freezing point) without being alerted by cafeteria staff beforehand, 84% again said that this had happened to them.

During the course of a separate poll run by the Rebel Report, students were asked how much they believed they paid for lunch each day. Of the students that could think of a rough answer, the average came out to around $7.50 a day. Assuming the average students pays about $7.50 a day for lunch, this means that student pays $37.50 a week, $232.50 a month, and $1350 over the course of a regular school year.

According to Pasquale LaRocca, Manager of Strategic Marketing and Branding for AVI, “Our check average (total sales divided by the number of guests we serve) since the beginning of the year is $2.12. Please note, this number includes many small snack-like transactions.”

LaRocca asserts, “Our combo meals vary from $3.75 – $4.75. Any customer can simply ask for the total at the end of their transaction. Higher check averages are the case when individuals add a la carte items not included in the standard combo.”

Imagine you’re at a Giant Eagle, or a Walmart, or a Gamestop, or any place you exchange goods for money; the most integral part of the whole transaction is making sure you have enough money to pay for the goods. Unfortunately, AVI is not compelled to inform their customers how much they pay for lunch everyday. Students don’t often think to ask, and they don’t tell us.

Therefore we really don’t know. The registers used in the cafeteria have the capability to display how much each student is spending, but it’s not used.

There is a confusing standard of pricing that takes any typical cafeteria combo meal and alters the price once a ‘different item,’ (like a more expensive drink, or a cup of soup,) is added to the meal.  Every item selected by a student then becomes, in AVI’s terminology, ‘a la carte’ and the whole meal costs the student significantly more.  

At Seton – La Salle, the overwhelming majority of AVI’s customer base is people under the age of 18. This means that a vast majority of the customers AVI serves here at SLS don’t have jobs or have a steady income, so they aren’t using their own money to pay for lunch. They use their family’s money to pay for lunch. Since a majority of the cafeteria’s customers are still minors, this is the first encounter many of the students have had with making business transactions on their own. So they may not be able to comprehend the value they receive in exchange for their money.

This issue is compounded by the fact that students are often hungry and focused on eating, as opposed to focused on assessing the price of their chosen meal. Further, refusing those students service, after confusing  them about their financial obligation is morally questionable on the part of AVI as a student service organization.   

LaRocca responded, “This certainly does not reflect our values as an organization. We work every day to earn your business. We absolutely have competition. Students may bring their lunch to school and we must provide a high level of value to ensure students purchase from us.

Student Council Vice-President Luke Mallon challenges students to consider other options. He has this to say, “If you keep feeding the machine, it’s not going to stop. Don’t buy lunch.” Mallon speaks for a growing number of students considering packing their lunches until AVI makes changes to the way the SLS cafeteria is run.

Mr. Pockl encourages students to provide him and the cafeteria staff with feedback. “I encourage all students to provide [AVI] with feedback. I want to start meeting with student council once a month to talk about the things we can do better.”

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