Belmont University’s contract with its food service provider, Sodexo, will expire on May 31, according to a press release.
Belmont’s cafeteria, Harrington Place Dining, has come under student scrutiny recently. A recent petition garnered over 700 signatures sharing concerns including the quality of the food, food safety and the limited availability on weekends.
And the facility’s recent score of 72 on its health inspection has only heightened attention.
Belmont University Dining Services will include students, faculty and staff in selecting the next food service provider. This process includes a committee, surveys and focus groups.
A brief survey that is available to all students, staff and faculty opened Friday. QR codes are posted on TVs around the cafeteria and Johnson Center. This survey closes Nov. 5.
Focus groups open to students will take place on Wednesday. These focus groups will take place at 5:15, 6:15 and 7:15 p.m. in the Harrington Place Private Dining Room. Staff and faculty focus groups took place Monday morning.
The Evaluation Committee will include survey results and focus group notes alongside their work researching and reviewing potential candidates. The committee includes students, staff, faculty and parents. It includes students in athletics, in student government and with food allergies.
Potential new dining providers include ARAMARK, Au Bon Pain, Chartwells and Harvest Table. Belmont's Auxiliary Services, which oversees Belmont Dining, invited these candidates specifically.
“All have resources and expertise to operate Belmont Dining Services,” said the press release.
Sodexo also remains an option as it looks to renew its contract. It has been in partnership with Belmont for more than 30 years.
Sodexo itself has made strides this year to improve its student relations. It began “Foodie Council Friday,” where employees aim to hear student feedback.
The Foodie Council form includes questions about current Sodexo food, events and trends. It also includes a section for students to suggest future events and recommend recipes from home.
The events run once a month with the next meeting being held on Friday at 10 a.m.
Carter Barnett, SGA president, met with Belmont Dining Services to check in on how Sodexo is responding to student feedback. He noted the student petition received the same level of engagement as SGA elections did.
“They know the concerns,” he said, “and so they’re wanting student representatives on future projects.”
However, change takes time.
“Time is always going to be a problem,” Barnett said. “There may be a long time period involved, but they want to work with students.”
Already this year, there have been changes to the cafeteria. Keith Chapman, managing director of auxiliary services, says that his team has been taking steps to correct some of the areas where quality “slipped” following the coronavirus pandemic.
“You’re seeing that in some of the specials they’re running,” Chapman said. “The attention to detail and cleaning the place up. My biggest concern is always from the service aspect.”
New specials are one way the cafeteria aims to regain student confidence. However, Dining Services is still aware of student wariness of food quality.
Chapman said that Harrington Place Dining produces over a million meals in a year. He said that the staff are bound to occasionally have imperfections with the food they put out, but they really do care about their work.
Cafeteria staff experience high turnover and have had to expend additional resources to account for the staffing issues.
Still, Chapman hopes that an emphasis on service will relieve some student concerns about food quality.
Sodexo’s manager at Belmont, Chuck Couture, said the company has made additional customer service training available to staff.
“It’s a continuous process of training, setting standards and making sure that we’re doing our best and they’re doing their best,” said Chapman.
The student petition also alleges foodborne illness outbreaks from the cafeteria, but previous allegations were unverifiable by the Belmont Vision.
Sodexo did not comment on specific complaints in the student petition.
Students who want to contact Sodexo with suggestions or concerns can find a feedback form on the Belmont-Sodexo website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written by Matt Sinofsky