Dining Services has made management and structural changes over the summer but intends to stick with its management company, ARAMARK, as well as its main food provider, SYSCO, which is a separate food service corporation contracted by ARAMARK.
According to Director of Campus Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations Cam Schauf, there are currently no plans to change management providers. The University’s contract with ARAMARK is renewed on a yearly basis. The process of choosing a new dining provider would take about a year and would be reviewed by the Advisery Group for Projects and Services. Instead of switching providers, Schauf said the University is looking to improve current operations through renovations and more local buying initiatives.
‘Basically we are not changing the foods we buy,” Schauf said. ‘Change has been in three areas: more cooking-to-order fresh foods; more ingredients visible for students to see; a cheerier atmosphere with brighter lights and lighter paint.”
In addition, Schauf reported that employees were trained over the summer to prepare food so that it is more consistent.
‘I think there are some misconceptions about what our contract with ARAMARK is,” Schauf said.
ARAMARK is responsible for the management side of Dining Services design, traffic flow, menu planning and equipment at all dining operations as well as contracting food distributors, for which they primarily utilize SYSCO. Meanwhile, UR regulates hours and approves menus.
Mary Locke, an ARAMARK employee, was formerly executive campus chef. Now she works with operations and is responsible for menu planning. Locke creates menus for each dining location using a database of over 10,000 ARAMARK recipes.
At special events, like Wilson Commons Wednesday, Locke organizes student input in menu planning. Some of the chefs are University union employees and others are ARAMARK’s chefs.
Sometimes recipes are changed to meet dietary requirements. For example, the recipe for macaroni and cheese soup at Douglass Dining Center originally called for ham, but the University wanted a vegetarian soup, so Locke worked with campus chefs to create a purely vegetarian soup. As another example, the meatloaf at Danforth Dining Center used to have bread crumbs, but when the rotisserie switched to a gluten-free station, the recipe was changed to incorporate Rice Chex instead. Students have noted changes in the availability of new options.
‘The salad station at the Pit is great. You can get salmon, shrimp or portobello mushrooms on your salad. And it’s clubbable,” junior and Deputy Speaker of the Senate Kiersten Hughes said.
Last year, a local food venue, Connections Caf, was added. Connections is an ARAMARK-dependent collaboration. The caf operates within the ARAMARK contract, but the design, layout and environment were developed to be unique to this university. The food at Connections comes from within New York State with a big emphasis on the Rochester area. The University has increased emphasis on local goods, like the pastries in Hillside Caf. Other examples of local foods include Moosewood soups at Douglass and Connections, rolls from Petrillos at the Pit and apple cider from Red Jacket Orchards at Danforth. Dairy on campus comes from Upstate Farms, a Syracuse-based co-op.
In addition, local company Freshwise Farms is also assisting the University with composting programs to help sustainability efforts. Dining Services acknowledges that the efforts continue to be a work in progress. At the Dining Committee meeting last Tuesday, a student asked about the possibility of more organic foods. ‘The focus has been on local products, but we are certainly open to hydroponics and organic goods as well,” Director of Operations Tim MacTurk said.
‘Last year, over 17 percent of the food we used was locally produced, compared with less than one percent four years ago,” Marketing Director David Feist said at the meeting.
As for the remaining 83 percent of our food, a large portion comes from SYSCO. SYSCO has many of its own brands of foods and also uses some national brands.
‘SYSCO is the distributor of all these national brands and ARAMARK contracts with all of these companies,” Locke said, clearing up a common misconception among students.
Though ARAMARK is not the source of the food, it and the University are jointly responsible for setting and maintaining food quality standards. ARAMARK has contracts with SYSCO to buy a variety of products ranging from Heinz ketchup to Tyson chicken. Some other brands include Kraft, General Mills and Kellogg’s, Nestle, Barilla Pasta, Uncle Ben’s, Campbell’s, Sara Lee and Land O’ Lakes.
The process of choosing what foods to buy from SYSCO is regulated by University and ARAMARK standards. The meat standards on campus are ‘Choice” for fresh beef, ‘Choice” and ‘Select” for frozen beef and Grade A chicken. ‘Choice” and ‘Select” beef are commonly stocked in supermarkets. Standards have not been changed from previous years.
While improvements are appreciated by the student body, some mechanics regarding meal plans still need to be addressed.
‘I think the food is better quality, but I don’t like that fewer things are clubbable,” Grace Weller, a graduate student and Hillside employee said. ‘I like the pastries we have here now.”
Some students are skeptical of the sustainibility of the improvements.
‘I thought that Danforth started off really well [at the beginning of this year] but it will be interesting to see if quality keeps up,” sophomore Chrissy Lazdowski said.
Sahay is a member of the class of 2010.