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University taking bids for dining

By Tate Herbert
On December 4, 2012

  • The University is reviewing responses to a recently completed University-wide survey about dining services. Joshua Linton

Big changes to dining services may be on the horizon as University administrators analyze the results of the most recent dining survey and consider updates and adaptations to be made over the course of the next few years. While work on relatively minor adjustments in dining facilities will be underway in summer 2013, Senior Vice President of Administration Mark Collins said that the University will also send Requests for Proposals to several competing food service companies, including Aramark, in the coming weeks.

The survey was filled out by over 1,500 students in addition to 592 faculty and staff over the course of about a week, according to an email that Collins sent to the Brandeis community last Monday. Collins said that the decision to send out RFPs was not a result of negative feedback from the survey.

"This is not an indictment of anybody. It's a business decision to look at ... where we are, and where we want to get to at Brandeis. Where we want to get to has been informed somewhat by the survey," he said, mentioning areas of dining such as variety, vegan and vegetarian options, cost and price value.

Aramark, Sodexo and Chartwells will all receive RFPs, said Collins. A few more contractors will probably be added to the list, but he declined to name them as of press time.

Collins cited examples of some questions that he would use to compare various dining operations, such as, "How much would they charge me for my current operations? How much would they charge me for enhancements to that current operation? Can I do it for less? Can I do it better for less?"

Co-chair of the Senate Dining Committee and Class of 2015 Senator Daniel Novak said that while he sees the RFPs as a sign that administrators are taking students' concerns to heart, the committee is more interested in working with Aaron Bennos, Aramark's director of dining services for Brandeis, to address immediate issues.

"I personally feel that that shows ... they're seeing that the students are unsatisfied with what's going on," said Novak in an interview with the Justice. "As a committee, we try to do what we can with Aramark, with what we have now," he said, adding that it is "the University administration's call" to either keep Brandeis' contract with Aramark or switch to another provider.

Bennos did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Aramark's first contract with Brandeis took effect in July 1998. Before 1998, the University had run its own dining operations "in-house." It was around that time, over a decade ago, that it last took bids for dining services, said Collins.

When that happened, all Brandeis dining employees were given the opportunity to transfer to Aramark. Many took that opportunity, he said. This time around, should the University's contract with Aramark not be renewed, Collins said that the goal is for a similar transition to take place with the new dining services provider. Student workers will be able to keep their jobs no matter what happens. The model of student workers in dining will stay, said Collins, but they may be moved directly to the payroll of Aramark or another company.

As of 2011, Aramark's contract with the University was listed at $10.8 million, according to public IRS forms. The forms also mention that Aramark Chairman and former CEO Joseph Neubauer is the husband of University trustee Jeanette P. Lerman '69.

The forms state that the contract "resulted from a competitive bid process and the normal procurement process."

As for more immediate changes, there will be some upgrades to dining facilities over the summer involving seating. Arrangements will move from "navy style" seating at long tables with rows of chairs on either side, to a more intimate setting with tables for smaller groups or duos. Some changes in the lighting and layout of dining halls are in the works for the summer, as well. Plans may vary depending on the proposals received from contractors and other input.

"We need a substantial amount of work in our dining halls," said Collins. "That cannot be done over the course of a single summer when you've got two dining halls and you're feeding kosher students and non-kosher students." He added that he expects new dining facilities to be constructed over the next two to three years.

While Aramark has presented the University with "attractive and aggressive proposals" to upgrade the dining halls in the past, the price of those upgrades has not been feasible until recently, said Collins.

In the survey results regarding quality versus quantity, "the all-you-can-eat component in Sherman is a winner" and is under consideration to be implemented at Usdan dining hall, he said. Usdan's food quality was rated higher than Sherman's in the survey results.

Adding an all-you-can-eat facility would also necessitate the designation of another area where students could go to purchase smaller items such as snacks and coffee without using a meal.

Overall, the results of the survey indicated that kosher students were pleased with the state of dining, but wished options such as those available at Sherman were available at other facilities across campus.

According to Collins, one of the "dominant" issues mentioned in the surveys was price-value, which relates to things like the points to dollar ratio, the cost versus the quality of food and meal equivalency at certain times of day.

"The fact that students can go to Usdan who have a meal plan, and they still [have to] reach into their pocket for some extra coin" is a major area of concern, he said.

Whether or not Aramark stays on campus, the Senate Dining Committee chairs promised to try to address issues such as these.

"We're here for the students ... so we'll adapt to whoever's here," said co-Chair and Rosenthal Quad Senator Biana Gotlibovsky '15.

However, while the committee may have an impact on small, day-to-day concerns, Novak pointed out that it ultimately has no say in the quality of the food served. "We don't have an effect on that, you know? And that's why I feel like students want more than ... changing all these little things. They want big things."

Members of the committee said that they were planning to host an open forum on dining during the first or second week of the spring semester.  

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