Dining changes proposed, Aramark contract on table

December 7, 2012

Senior Vice President for Administration Mark Collins announced that the university will be considering new dining service contractors. While the university may not necessarily change providers, it is considering a change and will pursue more minor changes to dining facilities starting next summer.

The announcement came after the results of the dining survey showed that Brandeis students were concerned about the quality and value of their food. The decision to consider new companies, however, was made before the survey, Collins said.

According to Director of Dining Services Aaron Bennos, Collins informed the company last week that a formal bid process would take place this January. The companies the university is considering are Sodexo and Chartwells, as well as Brandeis’ current provider, Aramark.

“It’s been something that we’ve talked about,” Collins said. “It’s been 12 years, anyway, maybe even a little longer, since we’ve gone out on the street.”

While the university may continue with current food service provider Aramark, it would renegotiate its services to respond to student concern. The results of the survey showed interest in improving the state of facilities and reducing congestion during peak dining hours.

“The largest issue was the price/value of the program mainly attributed to the condition of the facilities at Usdan and Sherman,” Bennos wrote in an email.

“Students in Usdan feel that they’re not getting the bang for their buck that they should,” Collins said.

Students are concerned with a variety of issues, including the value of points at Usdan, as well as the quality of the food offered and hours of operation. Students have expressed concern over the value of a la carte at Usdan, and the limited options for students with restricted diets. The Brandeis Vegans and Vegetarian Club have also been talking with the administration about the price and prevalence of non-animal product fare.

The Kosher eateries, currently limited to one half of Sherman Dining Hall, are also up for expansion. Creating a Kosher dining space in Usdan would be a large endeavor, however, and would take rigorous attention. The university, Collins said, would have to find out the costs and benefits before opening a Kosher station. It would also affect the number of students going to Usdan, which could even increase congestion in Usdan during lunch and dinner.

“When I say price and value, I think that relates to the meal plan,” Collins said. “The meal plans, I think, do need to change.”

Expanding dining hours, or changing providers might not increase the meal plans, but the university is looking into the ways they are organized. The University is still in the very beginning of its investigation into improving dining and are discussing a variety of options, which may not be pursued. According to Collins, the University has cursorily discussed creating meal plans that balance cost more evenly between upperclassmen, first-years and sophomores.

“The renovations are top priorities for the students. The last major renovations to these facilities occurred in 1998,” Bennos said. Small renovations, set to take place during the upcoming summer vacation, will include changes in seating. Collins hopes there will be a change toward more intimate and comfortable dining experiences. The survey was filled out by over 1,500 students and just under 600 faculty and staff members. The rest of the results have not yet been publicized.

Dining service staff would be given the option to change employers if the university did switch providers, says Collins, or move to other facilities owned by Aramark, if they did not want to switch.

“Whatever we did, if there is going to be a transition … my expectation is that we will transition as many people who want to come on board to come on board,” Collins said.

According to Bennos, “A new provider would need to determine whether they will recognize the terms and conditions of that collective bargaining agreement.”

“Ideally, if the change happens, I would love to have the people who are here working here,” Collins said. The Union representing the dining workers will continue to represent them and negotiate any changes with the contractors and the University.

“I think this process is going to allow us to see what other places are doing and what other vendors might be able to provide for us, and what Aramark might do,” said Collins

Renovations, which are to take place over summer of 2013, have not been finalized, but Collins says they will likely continue into the following academic year.