Emerson could have a new food service provider by next semester, as the college is considering other catering companies to replace Aramark when its contract with the school expires in June.
According to Jay Phillips, associate vice president of facilities and campus services, Aramark has been serving Emerson for 15 years and currently provides food for all of Emerson’s campus eateries, including the dining hall, 150 Cafe in the Max Mutchnick Campus Center, Emerson Café, Paramount Café, and the C-Store.
Phillips said that after reviewing Emerson’s dining program and interviewing students and administrators, the college is considering hiring a new provider to ensure the best value for students. The current bidders include Aramark, Sodexo, Chartwells, and Bon Appétit Management Company.
According to Phillips, feedback from interviews with students and administrators generally focused on a desire for fresher, healthier foods and more gluten-free and vegan options. Phillips noted that Aramark has made significant changes in the dining hall to accommodate these needs.
According to Mike Berry, general manager of Sodexo, campus food culture is evolving.
“I’ve been in the food industry all my life,” he said. “It’s very competitive, and people expect a lot more from a food service provider than just running a cafeteria.”
Berry said today’s campus food providers are veering away from a traditional system of points, dollars, and allotted meals, and toward a more restaurant-like experience. The food service industry is becoming more like retail, not only aiming to put a meal on a plate but also catering to customer needs like comfort and atmosphere, according to Berry. Additionally, students and colleges are demanding more sustainable and local choices that benefit the community, he said.
“It’s not just about the money,” said Berry. “They aren’t just looking for the best deal, not the lowest bidder. You have to add value.”
The companies bidding for Emerson’s catering contract see beyond the tray, as well. Bon Appétit’s Vice President of Strategy Maisie Greenawalt said the company’s core mission is to provide sustainable, fresh meals made from scratch after scrutinizing every ingredient. According to Greenawalt, bringing this quality level to campuses is vital. “College is when most of us form our eating habits,” she said. “We try out eating different things; for some of us, it is the first time making our own food decisions. We want to show that this is a way to shop, cook, and eat that is going to be good for you.”
Chartwells’ website says they use food to not only feed, but to build foundations for its customers’ futures. Chartwells and Aramark could not be reached for comment.
The potential new caterer will be chosen based on feedback from the Emerson community and independent evaluations, according to Phillips.
“The food service industry is heavily regulated and monitored to ensure compliance, and we hire third-party consultants to evaluate adherence to standards and expectations,” said Phillips.
Nicholas Dumont, a junior, said his experience with food from the dining hall varied each time he went.
“I felt like the quality differed from day to day,” the journalism major said. “Sometimes I’d go and I’d be pleased with the meal but then other days I’d go and I just couldn’t even finish what I had on my plate. A lot of the times the food was cold. It seemed like some of the food was older, like it hadn’t been freshly prepared.”
However, Natalie Bruno, a senior, said she is satisfied with Aramark’s services.
“I didn’t think this when I lived on-campus. I was like, ‘I’m so sick of on-campus food,’ but now, as an off-campus student, I appreciate the dining hall, and I appreciate something being warm and cooked for me and the fact that we have options,” the performing arts major. So I don’t think that we need to switch dining services. I feel happy with the food offered here.”
All four bidders are still under consideration, and Emerson will not make a final decision to continue with Aramark or choose another provider until the summer.
Phillips added that new meal plan choices are also being reviewed, and these plans will move forward regardless of caterer. The new choices will be announced once they are fully examined and ready to be implemented.