Seattle U Clubs Find Chartwells Catering Rules Restrictive

With limited funds and tight budgeting, Seattle University’s clubs have little money to spare when it comes to events and food. For many clubs, the problem of limited funds is made worse by a Seattle U policy that requires that all clubs cater any events that serve food through Chartwells.

This policy comes from a clause in the university’s contract with Chartwells and means that clubs are unable to hold potluck diners. According to Chartwells, this clause is put in place to protect students from food preparation injuries and prevent the school from being liable.

This clause is a rollover from Bon Appetit’s old contract with the school. The rule was implemented in 2017, and at the time it was met by significant resistance—particularly from members of cultural clubs, who had until that point involved students in the preparation of food at legacy events such as Lu’au, Barrio, and Xuan.

Following that decision in 2017, members of the United Filipino Club and 250 other community members delivered a letter to Bon Appetit, and the university amended its original decision after holding several forums with students.

With the same policy under Chartwells, it remains difficult to hold any events serving food, according to club leaders. For clubs—especially smaller organizations with fewer students—the cost of hiring Chartwells to cater events is not financially feasible when compared to the cost of holding a potluck.

Celia Simpson, a second year forensic science major and co-president of the school’s Rotaract Club has encountered a problem with this policy when the club attempted to hold a potluck event for one of their meetings.

“It would take up a massive portion of our yearly budget to have to try and cater the small event,” Simpson said. “There’s only going to be 10 to 20 people, so hiring a company for catering is excessive.”

Brian Maria, the Chartwells director of catering services, explained that Chartwells wants to make affordable options for student led clubs. These options include programs where clubs can pay for food by the plate which is beneficial for smaller events.

“We definitely developed a student menu for [smaller clubs] and having student friendly meal options, and we work with every student group to take a look at their budget and see what we can provide for them,” Maria said.

Chartwells said they are attempting to find ways that would allow student organizations to pay for catered meals from student attendees’ meal plan money. This would enable students to swipe their cards at the event, so that money is taken out of the meal plan rather than having clubs paying for it themselves.

Terry Conaty, the resident district manager for Chartwells, says that this plan would make catering more accessible, but it is still in the planning process and they are only working on doing it for events that get special approval until it can be streamlined to see if the program works.

“The university approached us to see if there was a way for students to spend dining dollars on catering, we are still talking about it…if that’s an avenue that students like to be able to fund events that way we are open to exploring that more,” Conaty said.

The other options available to Roteract included last-minute catering through Chartwells, holding the event off campus or making the event unofficial.

University clubs have culture specific events where they cannot utilize other options because they hold yearly events where club members prepare the food themselves.

For the cultural clubs on campus, Chartwells offers a different solution where they provide training, ingredients and kitchen space for club members to prepare the food. They cover basic knife skills and kitchen safety, so that students don’t hurt themselves. Clubs are still required to hire Chartwells for catering, allowing them to just pay for the training on the day of the event and the cost of paying a chef to oversee the cooking.

“We have agreed to allow students to cook their own food under our oversight, so we have chefs there to check in on them, someone there to teach them how to do things and make sure that everyone is safe while cooking in our kitchens,” Maria said.

These programs are set in place to try and keep money at the university, but according to Simpson, the cost can be too much to bear for some student organizations.

“Requiring clubs to order through catering makes it so much harder for smaller clubs, and it is prohibiting us from having these fun social events just because we are a smaller club and cannot afford to have these catered events, and it’s not right.”

Logan may be reached at [email protected]