Dining Board Outlines Optional Meal Plan During Town Meeting
The Campus Dining Board (CDB) no longer recommends a mandatory meal plan for all students as outlined in a proposal last fall.
The board’s new recommendations to reform campus dining will create a triumvirate plan comprised of Institute facilities, student resources for personal cooking, and off-campus dining.
The MIT community was given the opportunity to respond to the most current recommendations of the CDB for a comprehensive dining plan at a Town Meeting Wednesday evening.
“Ultimately, when we submit our proposal to Dean Benedict, it’s up to him. Right now we’re asking for student feedback,” said Kirk D. Kolenbrander, chair of the CDB.
Lobdell, Walker to stop dinners
Among the specific recommendations affecting MIT dining facilities is a call for the shutdown of Lobdell Food Court and Walker Memorial’s Morss Hall during dinner hours, in response to poor consumer participation at these sites.
Campus Activities Complex Director Phillip J. Walsh said that a $3 million dollar renovation of Next House’s dining facilities is slated to begin in April and will be completed before the fall term begins.
In keeping with the CDB’s desire to maintain a healthy level of vendor competition, the board has also suggested the contracting of independent merchants for dining locations in the student center.
Director of Campus Dining Richard D. Berlin III said an independent operator will be running Courses Restaurant next year, and Arrow Street CrÈpes may be joining Toscanini’s Ice Cream on the first floor of the Stratton Student Center to provide more meal-time dining options for students.
The CDB hopes to encourage sustained investment and renovations in dormitory cooking facilities and to have the MIT Card serve as a universal platform for all dining purchases.
Triangle makes for balanced plan
A far cry from the mandatory plan announced by Walsh last September, the current recommendations include an optional participation program based on the principles of competitive contracting, flexibility, financial accountability, and community satisfaction.
Kolenbrander outlined the CDB’s model, which he referred to as the “triangle of dining services.” The idea behind this structure of the plan is that each member of the MIT community should be represented and served by the all three points of the dining services based on their proportional preferences to dine on-campus, off-campus, or cook for themselves.
According to a handout distributed at the meeting, the objective is “to strike a balance within the triangle which provides the best fit of dining choices for the campus’ needs.”
Students suspicious of contracts
One part of the plan remains particularly controversial, as evidenced by persistent questioning by several students in attendance. Although the new plan calls for three independent contractors to cover Residential Dining, Community Dining and Faculty Club/Catering services, as of yet, there is nothing in place that would prevent one bidder from sweeping all three contracts.
“I’m a senior and I’m still paranoid,” said Miriam L. Boon ’02. “What if Aramark gets all three?”
Berlin answered that while it is possible that one contractor will get both the Community Dining and Residential Dining contracts, “it’s unlikely.”
Both Kolenbrander and Walsh expressed their hopes that the selection committee overseeing the vendor bidding process would maintain the ideals and concerns of the MIT community and never advocate such a plan. Walsh said more than half the membership of the committee comes from the Campus Dining Board.
“And there are are other ways we can assure competition,” Berlin said, referring to independent food service operations in the student center.
Four large-scale food service firms have been invited to bid for the Community Dining and Residential Dining contracts: Aramark, Sodexho (formerly Sodexho Marriott), Compass Group (a firm based in Great Britain with divisions in North America), and Bon AppÉtit (a West Coast-based organization).
These are “the biggies in the industry,” Walsh said. “They’re the ones who have the depth and the ability to handle” a job as big as MIT Campus Dining Services.
Another lingering question at the meeting was whether or not the CDB had a contingency plan in the event that their recommended operation fails financially.
“I don’t want to wake up one morning to find a $200 ‘quality of life’ fee on my tuition bill because the new dining system failed,” said Ross E. Benson ’03.
New facilities may attract bidders
Walsh feels that the recent and ongoing renovations of MIT’s on-campus facilities such as Courses and the upcoming Simmons Hall dining facility have combined with intensive financial review of the dining system to “create an attractive environment for our bidders.”
The agencies and contractors both have until March 29 to submit their bid proposals.
“We hope to be forwarding our recommendations to Dean Benedict and Chancellor Clay by mid-April,” Walsh said.