By CONNOR RYAN
Plenty of students have come and gone, but a campus culture of dissatisfaction in the cafeteria has remained a steadfast common denominator for years at Fordham. In 2011, three Rose Hill eateries were cited for numerous violations by New York City health inspectors. In 2012, The Princeton Review, a widely read resource of information for prospective college students, publicly decried Fordham’s food as the worst of any college in the country.
Now, at the conclusion of a yearlong review of Sodexo, Fordham’s food service provider of the last 30 years, and several other food vendors, administrators have said – perhaps unexpectedly – that Sodexo will stay in the kitchen for another 10 years.
But things are going to be different, school officials and student leaders are quick to add.
“What we saw with the proposal from Sodexo was that food options are going to expand incredibly over the next year and over the next two years,” Brendan Francolini, GSB ’14 and the incoming executive vice president of Rose Hill’s United Student Government (USG), said in a private meeting with several student affairs administrators and student leaders on Wednesday. “The main thing that’s going to change for students in regard to food is the variety of options.”
Along with added menu choices and meal plan offerings, the university says the new contract – which is slated to begin July 1 of this year – will offer better pricing for students and more administrative support.
Without getting into specifics, Jeffrey Gray, senior vice president of student affairs, characterized the new meal plan pricing as “essentially, less than what you’re paying now.”
As part of the new contract, Sodexo’s proposal includes plans to renovate several on-campus retail locations.
For example, it is likely that the Empire State Café will become a full-service Starbucks by the end of the summer, Gray said. The Millennium Grill near O’Hare Hall is in talks to become a Wholly Habaneros (Sodexo’s version of Chipotle, the well-known Mexican food chain) by the fall of 2013 and a Chipotle by the fall of 2014.
Other retail changes Sodexo has proposed include a Subway convenience store in place of the Student Deli and a small to-go kiosk in the basement of Keating Hall. The vendor also suggested Fordham add Zebi’s (Sodexo’s version of Cosi) in Faculty Memorial Hall and Panda Express, a Chinese restaurant, in place of Dagger John’s.
Gray said that Sodexo will underwrite all renovation costs made to on-campus retail locations, which will prevent the costs from being passed on to students.
Also under the new contract, students will be able to use their meal plan swipes – which will now be collected and carried over from week to week – at any of the on-campus eateries.
But despite the plans for renovations and added menu options, the name “Sodexo” undeniably encompasses a tough history and holds a negative connotation in the minds of many Fordham students.
“I think everybody’s very sensitive to the perception students are going to have and [we] need to work to change those perceptions,” Gray said.
A large portion of Sodexo’s new contract is a collection of incentives and disincentives that are aimed at motivating dining services staffers to improve overall food quality and better the wider view of food at Fordham.
For example, the contract stipulates that Sodexo will incur a $3 million penalty if Fordham’s name is not off The Princeton Review’s worst food list in the next few years, Gray said.
Depending on various factors, including poor health inspections or a strong student approval rating on surveys, roughly $250,000 has been allocated for performance-dependent incentives and penalties, according to Gray.
“The perception of food quality is something that we have to change through preparation, presentation and service delivery,” Gray said. “I think we’re committed to doing that.”
The decision to name Sodexo the winning food service bid concluded a process of evaluation, research and planning that began last August when The Princeton Review published Fordham’s name at the top of their annual worst college food list.
Last fall, Fordham hired the Rochelle Group, a consulting firm that specializes in food service evaluation, to investigate the university’s dining services. The group completed its evaluation in January and advised Fordham to terminate its contract with Sodexo and look for other vendors.
Summed up, the report said that Fordham did not deserve such a harsh ranking from The Princeton Review (which is based solely on the results of student surveys). The dining services are “adequate without blatant issues, however there remains a strong disconnect between student expectations and perceptions,” the report said.
University officials put out a call for bids from various food service providers. The Rochelle Group narrowed it down to five vendors – out of those five, three submitted formal proposals. One vendor, however, withdrew its bid before it could be seriously considered due to “financial complications with the contract,” Gray said.
It had come down to Sodexo and Aramark.
In the end, Sodexo offered Fordham $25 million more than Aramark in capital investments to renovate and improve the university’s dining facilities, Gray said.
Presiding over the entire process was a group of 19 students and administrators who were divided into three committees: the student engagement committee, the working committee and the steering committee.
After listening to presentations, discussing plans in closed-door meetings and evaluating proposals, the entire group held a vote: 18-1 in favor of Sodexo. The Rochelle Group also put Sodexo above Aramark.
Stephen Erdman, FCRH ’13 and the outgoing executive president of Rose Hill’s USG, called the difference between Sodexo’s and Aramark’s bids “dramatic.”
“I feel confident that students will be very pleased with the facilities renovations, meal plan packages and menu options Sodexo’s new contract will make possible next year,” Erdman said in a statement.
But so far, the decision has not been as popular among the wider school community.
Since the university announced the news Wednesday afternoon, the reaction on social media has been almost uniformly negative as crying emoticons abounded.
“Fordham signed Sodexo for another 10 years … 60 grand a year being pissed away one crusty meal at a time,” Jesse James Thares, a student, wrote on his Twitter account. He added the hashtag: “notsurprised.”
“YES Fordham let’s keep the food distributor that got us ranked worst college food in America,” Erin Cavoto, another student, said on Twitter. She added the hashtag: “fordhamlogic.”
Alumni, too, took to the Internet to announce their disappointment with Fordham’s decision to stick with Sodexo. Among them was Gerasimos Manolatos, FCLC ’07, who wrote on Twitter: “Another decade of horrible cafeteria food!”
Even Dagger John, a popular parody Facebook account on campus, wrote: “TERRIBLE MOVE BY FORDHAM. Glad I’ve been dead for over 150 years.”
Philip Bellissimo, a graduate student, seemed to be in the minority as he typed a message of hopeful encouragement.
“Congratulations to all the hard working people at Sodexo who worked tirelessly to improve Fordham’s dining experience and get a new contract,” Bellissimo said on Twitter.
Kelly Kultys and Joseph Vitale contributed reporting.
Correction:Sodexo has proposed to make the Millennium Grill a Wholly Habaneros by the fall of 2013 and a Chipotle by the fall of 2014.