Inside the Dining Services Decision


After 38 years of serving Fordham students, Sodexo will be replaced by Aramark as the University’s dining service provider. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY HANA KEININGHAM/THE OBSERVER)


Following an academic year that included a petition against Sodexo, activism for the dining service provider’s workers and an ongoing Request for Proposals (RFP) process, the University announced on April 18 that Aramark would replace Sodexo as dining service provider effective July 1.

The email announcement, sent from Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Jeffrey Gray, said that it is a 10-year, multimillion dollar contract.

According to the email, “Aramark received high marks for its proposed program elements, site visits by committee members to Aramark dining locations, fair treatment of employees and commitment to work with unions, sustainability practices, financial stability and a solid transition plan. Aramark also received very good recommendations from universities the firm currently serves.”

Why was the decision not unanimous?

The decision to chose Aramark over Sodexo and Chartwells/Compass as the next dining service provider, however, was not unanimous, as it had been when the University renewed their contract with Sodexo in 2013, according to Deming Yaun, dining services contract liaison.

While none of the sources interviewed specified the exact vote count, Gray said in an email statement that “it was a very competitive process, which included a significant amount of student input and feedback.”  

Yaun said that the students who did not vote for Aramark will meet with dining services and Aramark on May 5 to discuss their concerns.

“The plans centered around Lincoln Center and the restaurant portfolio that Aramark offered did not resonate so well with that group of students,” Yaun said. “So we’re getting Aramark and them together with an array of options and I’m sure we’ll settle on something that could work out.”

“And it might be good, because this way it does give Aramark the chance to get to know some students a little bit better and to be rolling out a program that will be better received instead of just having us accept the entire Aramark offer and then implement it and wind up with something we’re not totally happy with,” he continued.

Why Aramark?

Among the aspects considered in the decision process were openness to feedback and fair employment practices, according to those interviewed.

Leighton Magoon, FCLC ’17 and President of the United Student Government (USG), said that “They were really receptive and cognizant of what we were feeling.”

“They went through a series of points: ability for timeliness, refurbishing the facilities for the start of the school year, sanitation, sustainability, relationship with the union,” he continued. “[In] several categories Aramark was better than Chartwells.”

Magoon also called attention to Aramark’s openness to change.

“For me, [it’s] really helpful, as a student and student government president, [that] you’ve shown you can be open to change and I can be in a meeting and talk about what students want in the Ram Cafe and undergrad dining hall,” he said.

Yaun added that “I have been very impressed with Aramark’s culinary abilities. Their culinary team that I’ve worked with personally has demonstrated to me that they can transfer their skills and their passion for food excellence to the people who are actually producing it on the front.”

Why was the RFP issued?

The Observer’s initial reporting on the RFP process stated that the RFP had been issued due to changes Sodexo had requested in its contract with the University. These changes that Sodexo requested were financial, according to Yaun.

“They had put together an offer in 2013 that was not working out for them,” he said. “ And we decided to not just accept those changes.”

“But there’s a saying in sales and certainly when I was in this business: you have to win on every point,” Yaun said. “Sodexo proposed a program that we couldn’t support.”

Among the factors that the selection committee considered were the look and taste the look and taste of the food, the enthusiasm of the employees and how the companies’ representatives communicated and handled themselves, according to Yaun.

“I think it was not a process any of us were looking forward to when Sodexo first mentioned this,” Yaun added, stating that “I really think we tried to do a little bit more homework this time” in comparison to the prior RFP process in 2013.  

What about the workers?

Sandy Pope, a business manager with Teamsters 810, the union which represents the dining service employees currently working under Sodexo, said that “we had a conversation with [Aramark] in which they reassured us that they were planning to hire all of our people, keep their seniority in tact and their job classifications as much as possible the same, understanding that of course the configuration of the operations could be different.”

“The support from the faculty and the students has been enormous and I think that all parties heard loud and clear that the expectation of the Fordham Community is that the workers, themselves and their benefits, wages and everything be kept the same,” she added. “We’re feeling confident that it’ll be a smooth transition.”

Pope said, however, that “I think [Aramark’s] labor record is up and down, which is probably the case for any food service contractor.” Currently, Aramark is facing backlash at some of the universities it serves for its treatment of its workers. At American University, student groups have formed in support of the Aramark workers to advocate for fairer employment practices.. Conversely, Aramark earned a perfect score on the 2016 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and was named one of America’s Best Employers by Forbes in 2015.

Who made the decision?

As stated in the email announcing the University’s decision, “Aramark was chosen by a committee comprised of students and administrators, headed by [Gray], with support from [TM Consulting], which specializes in food service management.”

There were eight students on the committee, four from each campus. The students on the committee were chosen from Gray’s advisory council. Students are not elected to be on Gray’s council by the student body, but are instead nominated and selected by previous student members of the advisory council.

Eldredge said that they tried to make sure that “different constituencies [were] represented.”  

He added that the “flipside” to the small group chosen from Gray’s advisory council “is that I had some students talk to me earlier in the year, ‘this should be a wider initiative’ and ‘have these things open to the public.’”

“And there’s sort of a practical component to that, like there’s only so many venues and so many places that are big,” he continued. “But also I think some of the material is a little more nuanced and it involves some back and forth conversation and that’s hard to do in a big group. And so it’s easier when you have a small group to ask questions, to have dialogue, to converse, versus when it’s a large group, you’re pretty much speaking at them.”

Magoon said that part of the reason for the students on the selection committee being solely from Gray’s advisory council was the timeline.

“The RFP was released in December and we only had four months with a long spring break to make a well informed decision,” he said. “With the timeline and how much we had to do I feel like there was good student involvement. If we had more time, we should have gotten more students involved. But I feel like it was a good, well-rounded group of students.”

What changes can students expect?

Among Aramark’s proposals have been replacing the Ram Cafe with a Chik-Fil-A or an Au Bon Pain, according to Yaun. These proposals, however, have been debated.

“They first offered a Chik-Fil-A and what I don’t think people understood was the component that who can eat Chik-Fil-A every single day?,” Yaun said. He continued that the problem is “We’ve got this set menu that people thought they’d get tired of.”

“And so is there a grab-and-go component, is there an additional hot food component,” he said. “You’ve got to have more than just one brand here. And I think that Aramark understands that and we’ll be able to figure out a solution.”

Yaun added that Aramark will continue with the current plans to have an Argo Tea in the new Law School building. Additionally, Aramark will continue with the current meal plans for 2016-2017. Over the next academic year, dining services and Aramark will research student satisfaction with the meal plan programs and will possibly roll out a new meal plan program in 2017-2018, according to Yaun.

Eldredge cautioned that “change takes time. I think we’re going to see some change by the start of the fall semester. Exactly what that’s going to look like, I don’t know. Aramark has presented some wonderful plans.”

Moving Forward

Regarding the University’s relationship with Sodexo, Yaun said that “I think Sodexo did a great job over the last three years moving us forward. But I’m excited to see where it can go from here.”

Eldredge echoed Yaun’s sentiments, saying that  “Sodexo was moving and had shown signs and had been improving satisfaction on campus and I think Aramark’s going to come in with a fresh perspective and look at things differently. And I expect they will continue that improvement.”

John Azzopardi, resident district Manager for On-Site Service Solutions at Fordham University for Sodexo, said in an email statement that “Sodexo has enjoyed a long and successful relationship with Fordham University and unfortunately the administration has decided to go in a different direction with its campus dining program. We are proud of the many ways in which we’ve improved the student experience and quality of life on campus and we would welcome the opportunity to serve the University again in the future. We wish the students, staff, administration and campus community continued success.”

“I think the process has been tough at times because of how quick it was but I think that Aramark from what was presented will be good for the campus,” Magoon said. “And after 30 plus years, change is good. They seem to be open to working with faculty and students. We’ll have to wait and see, but they seem to be like a good vendor.