Dining services companies present to campus

Following an announcement from Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jim Terhune earlier this year stating that the College was “inviting proposals from dining services management companies,” three companies presented their proposals to the community this past week. Although six companies initially responded to the College’s Request for Proposal (RFP), the Bon Appétit Management Company, Sodexo USA, Inc., and the CulinArt Group were the only ones invited to present their ideas on campus.

Faculty and staff members of the advisory committee include Terhune, Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Douglas Terp ’84, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Philip Nyhus, Associate Professor of Global Studies Maple Razsa, Assistant Vice President for Finance Scott Jones, Associate Director of Campus Life Kim Kenniston, Research Analyst Jan King. The student contingent includes Mara Badali ’16, Calin Barber ’18, Timothy Gallagher ’16, Jake Lester ’18, and Ana Solis Canales ’18.

All three presentations took place in the Parker-Reed Room of the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and consisted of a ten minute introduction, 50 minute presentation, followed by 30 minutes of open questions from the community. After the question segment, the potential bidders left the room and allowed the audience to share feedback about the proposals.

Bon Appétit
On April 5, the back of the Parker-Reed Room was loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables which alluded to Bon Appétit’s’s mission of providing healthy and sustainable food. After introducing their 11-person team, the company gave a brief narrative of their history and values. Initially founded as a catering group that viewed “food as an amenity,” Bon Appétit has now developed into an “on-site restaurant company,” that works to customize every location’s program. According to one of their presentation slides, this strategy has resulted in a 99 percent client retention rate.

When the company presented their areas of “immediate focus” for the College, they emphasized food programs, retail renovation—the creation of a “Third Space,” catering, and community engagement.

In regards to food programs, Bon Appétit illustrated many ideas for new additions to the campus’ dining halls. The company argued to eliminate “cycle” menus, which simply rotate through the same foods week after week or month after month, in favor of gearing menus towards students and location.

A representative also stated, “healthy items are mainstream” in Bon Appétit locations, and while “Foss will stay as is,” other places should have the same healthy options, including 100 percent cage-free eggs. Part of this initiative would include expanding the salad bars at all dining halls to include things like local produce and house-made dressings and always making dishes from scratch.

The proposal also suggested changes to be made to the themes of the dining halls. Dana would take on an “international influence,” exhibition cooking, and monthly themed brunches. Bobs, given its proximity to the Athletic Center, would be more geared towards athletes’ needs, providing “peak performance food,” and health-conscious options. Foss would bring in even more vegetables, global foods, and locally sourced ingredients.

When addressing the retail-dining program on the Hill, the Joseph Family Spa was a key focal point. The Bon Appétit team suggested several area treatments to make the space more dynamic and welcoming to the community. These changes included additions such as “grass walls,” fireplaces, and multiple service points.

The revitalized operation in the Spa would also feature special programming, such as brunch and sushi, a full coffee program, and more nutritious snack offerings.

The Caporale Lounge, which is currently the home of the popular “Take 4” lunch option, was also viewed as an area for improvement. In addition to similar renovations to increase the warmth of the space, the company would hope to implement their “Meals in a Minute” program. The program essentially follows the same structure as Take 4, but promotes a more well balanced, house-made menu.

The concept of mobile dining, such as food trucks, was the final retail-dining option to be discussed. The team recommended that these would be fun and attractive additions to sporting events, concerts, and downtown events hosted by the College.

Next, Bon Appétit presented their ideas for catering services. Much like what the College has now, they recommended a multi-tier service that aims to work closely with anyone in need of its services.FullSizeRender-10

Following a question about catering workers, Bon Appétit noted that they plan to “honor and respect the experience and years of service of the current dining employees,” and will promote “shared ownership” of the dining program with the College. Part of these ethics will incorporate weekly transparency reports on nutrition and finances.

The company also stated a commitment to sourcing 20 percent of ingredients annually from Maine. While many people were excited about this, some noted that that number might only be hit during certain months when Maine’s agriculture is accommodating of the types of ingredients the College demands.

The company ended by saying that they are dedicated to providing a sustainable service that ensures “flavorful food that is healthy and economically viable for all.”

During the question segment of the presentation, Bon Appétit demonstrated an understanding of what the College’s values are and how it would want to undergo the transition process to a new company, should one take place.

The company stated that it would stick to many of the currently in place, such as systems keeping the unlimited meal plan and maintaining the jobs of dining services workers under their operation.

After the team left the room following questions, the Colby community seemed to hold generally positive views of the presentation. Students noted that the “simplicity” of the company’s approach to food was appealing, as well as their commitment to making all the food from scratch. One member of the audience called the company’s apparent willingness to be directed by the community “a breath of fresh air.”

Despite the positive reviews, certain audience members displayed apprehension about finances and the company’s ability to source all necessary ingredients from Maine. According to Terp, Bon Appétit’s proposal was the most expensive of the three companies, but still lies “within range” of what the College can afford after some re-budgeting.

The following day, Sodexo, the College’s long-time food service provider, presented their proposal. With a DJ, poster boards, and a stuffed animal named “Sal the Sustainability Squirrel” the presentation held a much flashier vibe than its predecessor did.

Director of Dining Services and Sodexo employee Larry Llewellyn made the group’s opening comments, stating that the company and the College have had a “long and storied partnership together,” that has recently included several student collaborations.

Senior Director of Sodexo, Larry Simpson, followed, saying “today is about the future…this is really your program, we are just the conduits to get you [where you want to be].”

Director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Harvard School of Public Health Barton Seaver presented on sustainability initiatives that could be brought to Colby. Aside from promoting the “Maine Course” program that Sodexo implemented this year in the dining halls, Seaver noted that “sustainability should have positive impacts,” and not just be characterized simply by the absence of negatives. In this vein, the group aims to reach a metric of 30 percent locally sourced foods by 2020.

In regards to specific dining halls, Sodexo, like Bon Appétit, had plans for additions and renovations. Beginning with Foss, the company suggested implementing a “customizable fire and ice station,” a vertical salad bar, and a cooking class program.

Dana would continue to host Simply Serving stations and be allergen-friendly. A new station called “MyKitchen” would enable students to prepare their own entrée from a set of ready ingredients.

The most drastic renovations suggested were aimed at Cotter Union. In an effort to make it a “destination location,” Sodexo presented the ideas of a full-service Starbucks in Caporale (which would eliminate the Take 4 program), a full sushi bar in the Spa, a bistro in the Marchese Pub, and a new community dining space in the Bobby Silberman Lounge to enable faculty and student engagement.

In their closing remarks, Sodexo pledged to be a “management team that is engaged with onsite leadership…community based and focused…and [create an] interactive experience” for students.

During the question session, many audience members showed distress over the lack of attention given to improvements in food quality throughout the presentation, as Sodexo suggested “no major plans” were in motion as of yet to change the menus. In the later group discussion, many students noted that this contrasted starkly with the “made from scratch” approach of Bon Appétit, and that Sodexo’s presentation seemed to focus much more on structural improvements to dining spaces.

In response to questions about staffing changes, Simpson noted that the only anticipated change would be the addition of a regional support team to help train employees.

CulinArt made the final presentation on April 11, characterizing itself as a middle ground between the two prior proposals. Vice President of Corporate Development Tom Wigginton led most of the presentation and described the company as mostly partnering withwebdining independent schools, though they also service large institutions such as the United Nations General Assembly.

Wigginton showed an eagerness to work with the College community, as he noted the “first thing [they] have to do is learn [our] culture.” The smaller size of the company was also touted as an advantage, in comparison to the “Big Three” food service providers, Sodexo, Compass, and Aramark, one of which CulinArt declined to mention had recently acquired their company.

One of the most prominently articulated strategies of CulinArt was their ability to provide “alternative” foods in dining halls. Their philosophy suggests that rather than entirely eliminating certain products, the dining hall will be better off by providing healthier alternatives. In one CulinArt serviced school where students were eating 180 pounds of French fries per week, the administration asked for the product to be removed. Instead, CulinArt implemented options such as smoothies, and French fry consumption dipped to 20 pounds per week.

The company would aim to expand several stations, such as the deli and grill, to have more fresh options and eliminate fro- zen meats. These new options are marketed to be entirely “authentic,” as CulinArt claims to value learning about cultures.\

The Spa would see major changes under CulinArt, as it would under each company. The vision of CulinArt is to transition to menu to a “Health by Nature Café” that pro- motes clean food while keeping the College’s current board plan.

Although the board plan would be maintained, the company demonstrated many supplemental tech- nologies that could make paying for food even easier, such as frequency cards and point systems.

When asked about sustainability initiatives taken by the company, Wigginton claimed that they are “agnostic,” and will meet the metrics the College wants them to meet, even if they are not universally applied standards for the company.

CulinArt also addressed the con- tentious issue of staffing, noting they will “grandfather” all employees on every level of their benefits.

Following the departure of the company’s team, the community shared relatively mixed impressions of the proposal. Some were relieved by the “less corporate” vibe of the presentation, as well as that they were the first company to initiate the conversation about staff seniority and benefits.

However, some people noted that the group did not seem to be familiar with the College’s sustainability metrics and lacked certain excitement, especially in their choice to not address the rearrangement of space per the advisory committee’s request.

With the completion of each proposal presentation, the committee will now move on to finishing up research and double-checking finances. The College, according to Terp, plans to contact current clients of each company to gain references and make sure that the chosen company’s proposal fits into the budget of the College.

Although there is still substantial work to be done, Terhune noted in an interview that turn around on the decision will be “very quick,” as the transition process into the next academic year will need to begin as soon as possible.

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