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Sodexho Takes Charge of Dining, Reactions Vary

By Vicky Hsu

STAFF REPORTER

One new dining option has already arrived on campus, with three more to arrive in the next several months.

Community dining, excluding faculty receptions, is the charge of the Sodexho company, which took over Lobdell, Walker, and campus satellite locations from Aramark in July.

“Customer service is our company’s main priority. We are not only in the food industry, but also in the hospitality industry,” said Paula Lima, service manager for Sodexho’s satellite cafes.

“We are still training the employees, most of whom are union workers who worked under Aramark,” Lima said, “Aramark did not train their personnel well in customer service. It will take time, but it is important, and the employees will get it.”

“Sodexho takes a food safety training program ... extremely seriously,” said Dan Eusebio, District Manager for Sodexho. “There has been a considerable amount of training to date, and there will be more during the month of August. All the managers are certified in it, and all the employees will be certified ... within six months.”

Workers have mixed views

Many of the workers under Aramark stayed to work at MIT under Sodexho.

“One of the great things about making the transition over the summer is that there is a chance for the company and the employees to move along the learning curve,” said Director of Campus Dining Richard D. Berlin III. “Recruiting efforts are going well. There are some very talented people coming on board.”

“The employees are great folks to work with, there certainly have been no troubles,” Eusebio said. “We did hire all former Aramark employees that wanted to work for us, and look forward to working with them in the years to come.”

“The new managers do more stuff,” said Melika Timothy, a Sodexho employee who previously worked for Aramark. “They help with things going on upstairs.”

“The managers under Aramark would come to the dining halls, look around, and go back to their offices to sit around until the end of the day,” she said.

“The benefits, treatment of employees, flow of customers, working environment, and worker's morale are all pretty much the same as before,” Timothy said.

"People are pleasant to each other, but the supervision is rocky," said Sydaiya Williams, a new Sodexho employee who did not work under Aramark.

“Some of the managers, like Heather Little, know what they are doing, but others don’t, so some things don’t get done right and some don't get done at all,” Williams said.

“A lot of them speak in a condenscending and patronizing way,” she said.

Students show concern, optimism

Students and staff on campus this summer disagree over Sodexho’s performance thus far.

“Sodexho has been great. The company’s attitude is very committed to doing what is necessary to provide excellent service,” Berlin said.

“From what I hear from walking around the dining halls, the food quality improved a lot and are good values,” said Berlin. “The company is making stuff from scratch and creating real restaurant quality food, and we have equipped them with state of the art kitchens.”

“In terms of food, Sodexho is a little better,” said Jennifer M. Farver G. “I haven’t had any problems with the service, and I think they offer better values."

But not everyone is pleased. “The [serving] stations take too long,” said Meredith S. Elbaum G. “I’ll say that they are about even,” she said, regarding Aramark’s and Sodexho’s services.

Rogelio Palomera-Arias G, agreed: “It is the same options and same service. The vegetables are raw and the burritos break. The cooking is not quite right, but it is getting there.”

Some students shared this mix of concern and optimism.

“It has only been a month, and I have noticed a moderate improvement,” Farver said. “I think that it is unreasonable to expect a major change overnight.”

“Given the constraints of the problems that the Dining Review Board faced, the board made a good selection [in choosing Sodexho],” she said.

“You can tell that they are trying to put out more options and better food, but the service is not yet better than under Aramark,” said Palomera-Arias. “Maybe by the end of the summer.”

“We have gotten positive responses from customers,” Lima said. “A lot of them haven’t realized that there has been a change in the management.”

“We are still in the transition period. There are still renovations being done. We are not offering all that we want to right now, like more sushi and choices of drinks,” Lima said.

“During a transition, there are always unforeseen issues that need to be addressed,” Eusebio said, “We have worked through some of them, and are still working through others.”

“Every day is more positive than the day before,” he said.

“We are looking forward to the beginning of the school year, when we suspect that the flow of people is going to be quite a bit more than what we have been having,” Eusebio said.

“The biggest improvement that I would appreciate is them fixing the tables [in Lobdell]. There are two modes of vibration here,” said Matthew A. Lehar, G.

More changes in the works

By next fall, students will be able to buy food using their MIT Meal Plan from six different vendors

“It has just been a very busy summer, with the introduction of a new vendor and all the renovations,” Berlin said.

“Every single dining location is different in some fashion,” Berlin said. “It is a very aggressive schedule, and I think that the students will be very excited about the new dining changes like we are.”

Next Dining will close at midnight instead of 8 p.m., and the dining hall will be air-conditioned, equipped with soft seats, and be wired for sound so students can play mp3s in the dining hall. The Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center will have a juice bar, which will be open by mid- to late September.

“We have been very deliberate about making the dining halls a social place and not just about food,” Berlin said.

Residential dining will be run by Bon Appetit, and all but exception of Simmons Dining will open Aug. 28. “Simmons hall is behind schedule in construction, and so the workers are concentrating on getting the student rooms ready,” Berlin said. “We expect Simmons Dining to be open sometime in November,” he said. “Meanwhile, there will be dinner catered in every night at Simmons.”

“Alpine Bagels should be open by the end of the month, and Arrow Street Crepes no later than mid-September,” he said. Alpine Bagels replaces Courses and Arrow Street Crepes replaces Toscanini’s, both formerly on the first floor of the Stratton Student Center.

BioCafe will be turned into a submarine sandwich shop, to be called Subversion, sometime during the school year.

"We are not in the business of making money. We want to keep the value for students as good as possible,” Berlin said. “It is really a matter of reinvestment.”