The University will develop a Request for Proposals program for its dining services as Sodexo’s contract with the University expires in June 2020, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky announced in an email on Aug. 26.

The process of developing the RFP is in its beginning stages and will take place over the next several months in conjunction with community conversations about the dining program. These town hall-style forums will be held in September and October to get community feedback and will be the main basis for the content of the RFP.

“What we’ll do is we’ll design an RFP after we’ve solicited that kind of input from a broad swath of the community, and then [present] an RFP to the vendor community to be in response to what are our values and then we can … hopefully choose a vendor that we all like,” Uretsky told the Justice in a Sept. 4 interview.

During the RFP process, the University will determine the desired changes to the program and their costs. Once the RFP has been completed, likely during early winter, potential vendors will submit proposals. 

Sodexo has been “fully cooperative” throughout the process and has taken an active role in the planning process for the RFP, which came as a result of “both their desire and [the University’s] desire to look for ways to restructure the contract in ways that are mutually beneficial,” Uretsky said. However, the University does not have a “vested interest” in any particular vendor, he added.

“Whether it’s Sodexo, or a new vendor, one of the things that we’re all looking forward to [is] being able to meet some of the needs of the entire community. … What those changes look like ... are the sort of choices that we’ll have to make as a community [regarding] what we want in a dining program,” Uretsky said, noting that the changes made will need to be within the University’s budget.

Once the University has narrowed its search to a few vendors, administrators will make unannounced trips to sites where the vendors operate, where they will try the food and speak with people who work with the vendors to hear about their experiences.

While the University will be using the RFP to review its food service program, it will also be looking at institutional changes in dining operations, such as meal plan options and the hours and locations of the dining halls.

A significant number of students have expressed dissatisfaction with the meal plan requirement for residents of dormitories with kitchens, Uretsky said, adding that this will be one area that the University will be looking into.

The University will also be looking at the layout of the dining halls as “social spaces,” Uretsky said. Right now, the dining halls are used only for eating, and are not social spaces by design, he said. The option of new dining hall locations will be explored, with the addition of smaller satellite locations similar to the Starbucks in Farber Library being a possibility. These locations are more conducive to socializing, but incur high labor costs, he said.

The University will work closely with groups that have special relationships with Sodexo and the dining program throughout the process, such as Conference and Events Services and the Senate Dining Committee.

“This is a great opportunity for us to look at the food program and to be an active participant in helping to decide what it will look like in the future, and we’re looking forward to an inclusive and transparent process to get us to that point,” he said.

While Uretsky was not at Brandeis during the last RFP process, he told the Justice that student culinary interests and concerns have likely since shifted, making this process different. Students have expressed a greater interest in healthy eating and farm-to-table food, Uretsky said, and have been more concerned about allergies.

—Editor’s Note: Editor Jocelyn Gould works for Conference and Events Services.