Improve or Lose: Colgate Seeks Food Service Options Outside of Sodexo

On Friday, February 6, Colgate announced in an email to students and employees that, after working with the food service company Sodexo for more than 40 years, it would put its food service contract out for a bid.

In the email, Vice President for Finance and Administration Brian Hutzley outlined a month long review process that aims to involve students and the Colgate community as much as possible in the selection of a new firm. An advisory team comprised of faculty and staff from multiple departments, as well as students, will design focus groups, interviews and surveys throughout the semester to collect feedback from the community on Colgate’s needs and preferences.

“The decision will be very focused on our students and certainly faculty, staff and the broader Colgate community,” Hutzley said. 

In a 2014 senior survey, the level of food service satisfaction at Colgate was down to 46.9% from 50.2% in 2013. While Sodexo has also been involved in a lengthy union contract battle this year, Hutzley said the food service evaluation process has no connection to union issues. Sodexo will be eligible to submit a bid on the new contract. 

Colgate hired an outside firm, Peter Khouw Consulting, Inc. (PKC) to work with the advisory team throughout the process. They will help prepare a request for proposals to be sent to multiple food service providers, at which point bids on the contract will be made. 

The advisory team and PKC will make a recommendation to Hutzley, who will make the final decision. The school is scheduled to make a choice, whether staying with Sodexo or accepting a new company, by the time students return to campus next fall. 

The advisory team is chaired by Vice President for Auxiliary Services Joanne Borfitz. Student Government President Sarah Rende and Vice President John Lee made recommendations about which students should be members of the advisory team. The four members are senators, representing their

respective classes.

Sophomores Daniel Berry and Kayla Oliver and first-years Andrew DeFrank and Woohee Kim are the four student members on the advisory team. Kim said the team recently met with PKC, which has just finished hearing student opinions through focus groups. Those opinions will help them create a student survey to assess needs and preferences.

“I think that there is a lot of good energy from the team,” Berry said. “Everyone is excited and engaged with the process that has happened so far.” 

“I believe that food is one of the most important aspects of student life,” Kim said. “Having good quality and healthy food that takes individual needs into consideration is vital to student satisfaction.”

Kim said that food service is one of the biggest issues students voice their opinions on, and participating in the advisory team allows her to help convey those opinions in the selection process. Those opinions include complaints about hours of operation, weekend brunch menus, special dietary restrictions and the general quality of food. 

“Since food is deeply connected to satisfaction in student life and student health, it is important that the voices of students are heard in this process,” Kim said. 

Oliver said she expects the quality and variety of food served to improve through this process.

“This campus is very healthy, yet one of its two main dining halls serves mainly fried food,” Oliver said. “I think there’s a gap between what’s being offered and what the student body wants to eat.”

 DeFrank said students’ opinions need to be valued in this process, especially because first-years depend entirely on food from dining halls. DeFrank said that Sodexo has also failed to provide diverse food selections to students with dietary restrictions. 

“Sodexo has failed on a variety of fronts according to my personal experience and countless stories I’ve heard from others,” DeFrank said. “We all agree the quality of food in Frank and the COOP is subpar, not to mention the

unhealthiness of the options.” 

Hutzley agreed that the decision to seek a new contract for food services was critical for the University. 

“This is an incredibly important decision,” Hutzley said.

 Hutzley said the process is designed to engage the entire campus, and he encourages students to contact any members of the advisory committee or himself. 

“It appears that no matter what happens, food at Colgate will be markedly better when we return next August,” DeFrank said. “I have quite a bit of hope that a new provider, or a vastly improved Sodexo, will come to campus and dramatically improve our food services.”