She started as a student worker in Bon Appétit’s catering department in 2006. Thirteen years later, she has returned to the Hilltop as Bon Appétit’s Resident District Manager (RDM) in charge of its operation at USF.
Crystal Wong (‘09) graduated with a degree in hospitality management and feels like she has come “full circle” in coming back to the University. She assumes the RDM position after Micah Cavolo stepped down in December 2019, following three years running the Market Café, colloquially known as the caf.
Wong takes over at a time when the caf’s favorability with the campus community has dropped. Under prior RDMs, student dissatisfaction resulted in a boycott in 2013, the campus community raised concerns about decreasing quality and rising prices, and most notably, the caf’s health and safety score reached an all-time low in 2018 with a score of 80. That report, along with prior San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) food safety reports, made a number of problems evident, including live vermin found in serving areas and refrigerators being kept at higher temperatures than the standard for safe food handling and storage.
Wong’s management philosophy will see her occasionally out on the front lines roaming the floor or helping servers during busy hours. “A silly fact [about me] is that I love being on the floor.”
She said she hopes to improve the dining experience of students and faculty, as well as increasing morale among Bon Appétit staff. “By having the managers on the floor working together, it really does kind of bring a sense of camaraderie for us.”
Wong is not a University employee but is a Bon Appétit employee who works with Garrett O’Doherty, the USF manager who oversees Bon Appétit’s operations on campus. The role of the RDM is like that of the general manager of a restaurant, according to Wong. She oversees all staff and all departments from catering to culinary. “I’m looking at menuing; I’m looking at costs, overseeing the financials of the unit,” stated Wong, noting that she’s also responsible for customer experience.
On improving the caf, Wong says that her first priority is student interaction. She aims to do so in two areas: first, by improving the student experience, and second, by increasing community engagement.
Wong believes that improving the experience starts with “maximizing the Flexi meal plan” through more frequent meal rotation and offering more options for students. She is open to student suggestions on new products and has a goal to “rethink” spaces in the caf to bring more options.
Among Wong’s goals for improvement are a more data-driven approach to dietary offerings. Already, she has put a previously-empty open-air refrigerator in the Classic station to use, offering assorted fruits and vegetables. She plans to expand the area into a “mini farmstand,” offering fresh produce from the USF-owned Star Route Farms.
Her goal for community engagement includes hosting more events and emphasizing Bon Appétit’s commitment to sustainability. Wong confirmed that the well-received “Monday Market,” a farmers market-like event where students could purchase organic food products and other goods with their Flexi meal plan, will be making a return on Feb. 10.
Wong has engaged in conversation with staff, faculty, and students to garner new ideas and overhaul the caf experience. She said staff and faculty have reached out to her, interested in hosting events like a “takeover” of a caf station. Aiming to reinforce a sense of community, she has asked some faculty and staff about changes they’d like to see that might encourage them to visit the caf instead of the adjacent Staff and Faculty Dining Room.
Overall, this is part of Wong’s larger goal to bridge “the gap between just being a vendor, Bon Appétit, on-campus and just really being part of the USF community.”
Addressing concerns surrounding food affordability, Wong affirmed prices are adjusted according to a consumer price index and approved by USF. She emphasized that the Flexi meal plan is meant to be “supplemental,” as students “don’t need to eat [on-campus] all the time.”
Wong also commented that she hopes to increase transparency around pricing by adding à la carte prices to the menus, granting students more flexibility in creating affordable meals to suit their needs.
She also is currently working with University Ministry’s Food Recovery Network to donate leftover food and plans to attend the Food Pantry Advisory Committee’s next meeting to see what she can do as manager of Bon Appétit.
One of the biggest concerns that patrons have is the low health and safety scores that the caf has received in the past. In its most recent inspection, the score increased to 86. Wong noted that after the August 2019 inspection, SFDPH officials visited the caf twice in November to follow-up on complaints filed by the public, but did not find anything to substantiate these claims. She attributes this to staff training and continued efforts made by both Cavolo and herself, making sure that food safety and handling are discussed at daily team meetings.
Since she assumed the management role, Wong has increased the number of times Bon Appétit’s contracted pest control service visits the caf. She said that the University has also increased pest control rotations on their end, effectively doubling coverage. In addition, she is enforcing food safety practices such as not leaving food out in the open overnight and making sure food products are packaged, labeled, and stored away every night to not attract pests.
Wong expressed a reaffirmed commitment to improving the quality of options for students with dietary restrictions. That includes increased training for staff regarding food handling procedures to avoid cross-contamination.
As students start to flock back to the Outtahere Café, colloquially known as the undercaf, for late-night meals, Wong is happy to announce that she is looking into expanding late-night meal service and options in the popular late-night eatery. Since taking over, she has increased the number of portions available every night and has already begun utilizing the pizza oven in the undercaf. In response to a Foghorn article in April 2019 regarding coffee availability on campus at night, Wong said that coffee is available in the caf until it closes at 9 p.m., and she hopes to have drip coffee and cold brew available for purchase in the undercaf in the near future.