Theatre group takes on campus caterer Chartwells

It’s Thursday evening in the cafeteria at the Library building. Two men look like they’re about to come to blows. Two guys at a nearby table are asking them to calm down.
The reason for the fight? Whether Concordia’s cafeterias – run by foodservice giant, Chartwells – is a good place to eat. But there’s more going on here than it appears. The two young men, whose near-violent argument has become the center of attention in the cafeteria, are actors performing a scene. But the people telling them to calm down don’t know that.
This is theater with a purpose. Montreal based theater collective, Optative Theatrical Laboratories (OTL), uses “guerilla theater” to publicly question corporate practices . They also encourage people to think about where they spend their money. Their current target – Chartwells.
Chartwells is a subsidiary of Compass Group, a British foodservice conglomerate. Compass is one of the largest companies in the world, with annual revenues of over $20 billion. Here at Concordia, Chartwells enjoys a monopoly on foodservice. Optative takes issue with this monopoly and with Chartwells’ opposition to student run businesses. They claim that Chartwells is attempting to shut down student bake sales.
While the scene started off seriously it soon took a turn toward the absurd with the arrival of “Chartwells CEO” and “Chartwells Security,” to remove people who don’t like the food. The scene also featured a “Chartwells Sergeant singing “We are Chartwells, we sell food, we’re the only choice at school.”
The group staged two scenes at Concordia on Thursday, one on the seventh floor cafeteria in the Hall building and a second at the cafeteria in the Library building.
Although there were few students in the cafeterias at the time, the performance was well received by students who happened to be there. “I liked it, it was cool, it was funny,” said Stephanie Dodge.
Dodge lives in residence, and as a result was required to buy a meal plan from Chartwells. The mandatory plans, which start at $3,250, were another of the concerns raised in Optative’s performance. “We have no choice,” Dodge said. Her friends, also residents, were also upset with having to buy the plans. For them the main problem is the poor quality of the food. Zach Kain and his friend Blair Barrington share the same opinion. “It fluctuates from poor to crappy.”
They were also upset by the recent firing of popular chef David McLean. “They shouldn’t have fired Dave, he was good. They fired him because he was too good,” said Kain. The better quality led to residents taking more food at the Loyola Cafeteria, where customers pay upon entering and are able to take as much as they want. McLean was transfered to the Sir George William campus and many residents began to boycott the cafeteria at Loyola, preferring to go downtown. McLean was later fired. Kain and Barrington said that after McLean was fired food quality dropped significantly.
At McGill, Chartwells has taken over the management of a student run café in the school’s bookstore as well as a cafeteria that was run by engineering students. This fall the university also took control of the student owned Architecture Café, a move OTL blames on Chartwells. However due to widespread student opposition, the Architecture Café remains in the hands of Mcgill students.
Jay Lemieux, a member of OTL, said the group also takes issue with Chartwells’ lack of kosher, vegan or halal meals and limited choices for vegetarians.
Lemieux said that they consider the scenes a success, because of the positive response they’ve gotten. “We’re getting more and more acceptance, people are realizing that companies like this don’t deserve their support.”
No one from Chartwells was available for comment by press time.


Related Posts