Over the last year Sodexo, the corporation responsible for the food and beverage services on Marquette’s campus, has come under pressure from the student body. Students are unsatisfied with a number of aspects of Sodexo’s services including prices, quality, and transparency of operations.
This dissatisfaction climaxed with the Marquette University Student Government’s senate voting to terminate the university’s contract with the multinational corporation. This decision is ultimately left to the Marquette administrators, but the student voice carries weight. A full semester later Sodexo is still at Marquette, though they did begin to make some changes to the way they operate some of their major dining halls already, starting this spring semester. Furthermore, Sodexo hosted a widely publicized open forum recently to allow students a chance to voice their concerns.
Food quality and menu options have been a major concern of students for quite some time. With a fairly decent number of students having special dietary and nutritional needs this has been a major concern. Many students are alarmed at the high levels of sodium and carbohydrates in many of the foods, especially at McCormick Hall’s dining facility which serves a majority of students.
“Shouldn’t nutrition be a main priority here at Marquette?” asked one concerned student during the forum, “How are milkshakes all day, every day a healthy choice?”, when asking about the new diner theme being designed for Mashuda Hall.
At the forum, Sodexo gave a brief presentation describing their currently planned solutions to improve dining in the coming years.Some of these solutions addressed the problem by assuring that they would be working to incorporate more local produce and dairy products in their facilities. Sodexo representatives reminded students that primary growing seasons are generally during the summer when students are not on campus.
Many students are concerned with available options for those who have special dietary needs, especially those with a vegetarian diet or those who need gluten-free foods. “I’m a vegetarian and I’ve found that most of the time the best meal I can get is a grilled cheese sandwich, sometimes that’s all I can find for two meals a day,” said a student who preferred to remain anonymous. Some have found that if they can call ahead by about an hour or so they can have a meal specially prepared for them by the dining staff. Of course, on a college student’s schedule that is not always convenient.
Another major issue is the mandatory policy that underclassmen purchase a meal plan. This raises the concern of where the discrepancy between the cost per meal paid by students and the cost of one plate of food that they receive. When asked for specific facts and allocations of money, Sodexo seemed unable to answer students on where exactly their money was going by percentage in certain areas of the budget.
“I’m very concerned where my money is going, I’d like to see the prices go down per meal. I’d like to see what it costs, per meal, I want to see what we’re actually paying,” said Brian Graf, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Former MUSG president and College of Arts and Sciences senior said he was pleased that Sodexo was continuing to work with students in order to better their services provided. It was also an opportunity for Sodexo to renew the faith of the students that they were working to fit their needs. They stressed the need for time to make big changes happen.
“The changes that have come about in the last few years have come from meetings very much like this. They have been built on the student feedback that we have been getting. We encourage students to continue to provide input,” said Dan Auger, general manager of Sodexo at Marquette.
Jordan Reff, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore and Schroeder Hall resident was very pleased, “I think it’s great that they are trying to work with the students because those are the people they are serving.”
Graf participated in a small meeting with some of the same Sodexo employees and other students that lived in McCormick Hall last year and says that good things have come from it already. “Last year I was in a small group meeting with students and Sodexo. We discussed what was then current dining hall availabilities and food quality. The things that came up were good and bad, what we liked and disliked. We proposed new ideas and by this year they had changed or made better the ideas that we had discussed. As far as I can see they are interested in changing when students ask them to. We realized that not everything can change so quickly, however, but they make the effort to change as fast as they can.”
In light of the concerns raised last semester Sodexo made changes regarding their service hours and quality, especially at McCormick Hall and Cafe Italiana at Schroeder. Some of the changes included extending the serving hours at the various sections of McCormick such as the international grill and sandwich station. Cafe Italiana’s hours of operation were extended to every night of the week as well. Many students noted this change at the semester.
“I noticed a definite change at the beginning of the semester. There are also more limited time offers which are great, for instance tonight I got a mean plate of nachos at the AMU,” said Matthew Schulz, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration.
John Heflin, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, is still waiting for more. While he was not at the forum, he was disheartened to hear that Sodexo did not provide facts and figures when it came to using students’ money.
“Yes, they have made noticeable changes, but there’s still a long way to go. The results we see are still less than acceptable. I commend them for their efforts at trying to make the conditions more acceptable, but I challenge them to do better.”
Sodexo indicated certain benchmarks that they want to meet by the years 2010, 2012, and 2015. Students should continue to provide feedback via the means provided them on Marquette’s campus.
by Joseph DeFelice