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New food provider to take over campus dining

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • August 2, 2013

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Sodexo will provide food services at all of Emerson's eateries, including the dining hall, starting in the fall.
Sodexo will provide food services at all of Emerson's eateries, including the dining hall, starting in the fall.

Emerson will have a new service provider come the fall, France-based company Sodexo. This change will come with a reorganization of the meal plan system and fresher food, according to Jay Phillips, the associate vice president for facilities and campus services.

This is the first time in 15 years the college will not use the services of Aramark. The former provider’s contract will expire at the end of July, said Phillips.

The two new dining options available to students are the Unlimited Plan and the Block Plan. The Unlimited Plan will provide students with infinite dining hall meals per semester and 150 Board Bucks used to purchase food in campus cafes. Choosing this plan will add $62.50 onto regular room and board costs, which range from $13,000 to $15,000.

The Block Plan will give students 800 Board Bucks and 80 dining hall meals. This costs $50 on top of room and board.

The Flex Plan, which offers students 101 dining hall meals and 650 Board Bucks and is included in room and board costs, is still available. So is the commuter plan, which gives students 50 dining hall meals per semester and 150 Board Bucks for $675.

The Block Plans and Weekly Plans previously offered by the college will no longer be available.

The new meal plans were added based on feedback from students coupled with data analytics as to how meals have been taken and Board Bucks have been spent,” wrote Phillips in an email interview.

Phillips said he is not sure if the food in the dining facilities will remain the same as Aramark’s, but he will monitor the group’s actions carefully to make sure the service is up to par.

A team of students and administrators worked with independent food service consultant Ray Petit of Petit Consulting to reach a decision about the hire. The group met with representatives from four different food providers — Aramark, Bon Appetit, Chartwells and Sodexo, said Phillips.

Each company presented a sample menu and discussed plans for Emerson’s dining. Then the team — which included administrators David Haden, Karen Dickinson, Loretta Bemis, Margaret Rogan, Maureen Murphy, Phillips and six students — scored each company in various areas. Sodexo received the highest score, said Phillips. Price was considered in the decision, said Phillips.

Junior Lindsay Geller, who sat on the panel, said Sodexo stood out among the other candidates. Geller is a vegan and she said the company will expand these options for students.

“It was great to see what they actually planned on serving,” said the marketing communication and writing literature and publishing double major. “Personally, I liked how receptive they were to increasing composting on campus in all of the cafes and their willingness to buy locally.”

Panelists did not taste the food, said Geller. Sodexo employees offered to make a sample meal, but the college asked the representatives not to, she said.

Phillips said that the college asked that all vendors not prepare food because of time constraints. Also, he felt this may put Aramark at an unfair advantage, for the company already had a full kitchen set up.

Geller said she was selected to take part in the decision because she serves as the Student Government Association’s sustainability commissioner. Other student panelists were nominated by staff members, she said.

Phillips said Sodexo presented options that were healthy, fresh and sustainable. This criteria is consistent with what Emerson wrote in its Request for Proposal sent to each food provider. The company has a strong presence in Boston, he added. Sodexo provides food services for the neighboring Suffolk University, University of Massachusetts Boston and many offices in the Financial District, according to the group’s website.

After Emerson sent out a community-wide email on July 26 announcing this decision, many students took to social media to voice their opinions. Much of the discussion surrounded what the college planned to do with the existing food service employees.

“The Emerson food service change better not have affected the EmCafe. I can't live without Esperanza [an Aramark employee] giving me my breakfast,” tweeted Logan Leavitt, a junior journalism major.

According to the email, non-exempt employees, or workers who fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act, would be invited to apply for a position on Sodexo’s staff. Some students felt this wasn’t a good enough option.

“Very disappointed that @EmersonCollege did NOT protect the jobs of food staffers & are making them seek employment all over again,” tweeted Donovan Birch Jr., a junior political communication major.

Geller said this was not the case. Sodexo representatives want to ensure these individuals mesh with their company’s culture and will re-interview them to ensure so.

“They did mention that their retention rate of employees [during transitions] was something like 98 percent,” said Geller. “So I don't think Emersonians should be worried about losing their favorite employees.”