Forum brings dining questions to the table

With the expiration of Aramark’s residential dining contract in June, the University has started to reevaluate its dining system. The forum went over the plans and evaluations that have been put to action.

By Amy Myers

University administrators discussed new campus dining initiatives at the Student Forum on Campus Dining and Co-Curricular Life yesterday. The hour-long forum included a panel on new campus dining initiatives, comments on co-curricular life by Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Associate Dean of the College Elly Daugherty, and a Student Government (SG) update from fourth-year and SG president Greg Nance.

Aramark’s residential dining contract with the University will expire in June 2011, and the administration has launched efforts to reevaluate the dining system across campus. The Global Dining Initiative (GDI), the committee of administrators and students reevaluating current dining programs, has begun reviewing interested providers and will make a proposal request by the end of January.

“The question is, can we do better? Or, can we do different?” said Associate Vice President for Campus Life Karen Warren Coleman.

The ongoing dining system evaluation process so far has included 40 interviews, seven focus groups, and a fall quarter survey of University students, faculty, and staff.

One of the options on the table is a currency system, which would incorporate all University-run dining sites on campus. “There’s just no sense of integration,” said Coleman, of the current dining system. “Part of this initiative is to integrate a one-card experience.” The system would not include student-run cafés.

The GDI is also considering the addition of local businesses to the campus dining system. The group plans to investigate the option of an off-campus meal plan, which Mason indicated was a major point in the dining surveys and focus groups.

However, according to Director of Operations and Communications for Campus Dining Services Richard Mason, the group must balance an expansion of options with the continued desire to foster a campus community through dining, as seen in the tradition of house tables. “We see food as an enabler of community,” said Mason.

Mason also identified a potential model which could incorporate two separate contracts—one to service residential sites, like dining halls, and another contract to handle sites such as Hutchinson Commons and the C-Shop.

According to Coleman, the committee has considered sustainability to be a major factor in choosing a food service provider, working closely with the Office of Sustainability.

For example, while leftover food is currently composted, the group will consider food donation services, such as the Food Donation Connection, which will offer food from dining halls to homeless shelters, according to Mason.

The committee is still seeking student input with ongoing focus groups set to continue. “We really want to continue an open dialogue,” Coleman said. “This is a huge initiative.”

Students can expect changes to the current system to occur in phases, beginning next fall, said Coleman. The new contracts will go online August 15.