University of Rochester Dining Services underwent substantial changes this past summer, as a result of months of communication between outside consultants, ARAMARK, Dining Services, students and administrators. The meal plans were completely revamped, many dining facilities were renovated and menus were expanded. Additionally, working with dining consultants, Dining Services is in the process of refocusing its attention to provide more complete food service to the University community.
There are notable differences to all of the dining plans that the University offers. Students with Club Declining Plans will no longer receive a bonus after exhausting their funds – instead, students will get a discount between 10 and 20 percent at All-You-Care-To-Eat restaurants and at special events. Also, many students will get up to a 5 percent discount on food purchases at retail locations.
Freshman and other students taking advantage of the Club Meal Plans will be most affected by Dining Services changes. Unlike in previous years, there is no longer a cash equivalency for Club Meals. This means that students can only use their Club Meals at an All-You-Care-to-Eat restaurant or on certain Club Meal Combinations at the Pit, Club Express, and Hillside Cafe during specific hours.
These changes were largely based on the recommendations of outside consultant firms – the Cornyn Fasano Group, ECS Consulting and Market Decisions Corporation – that have used various surveys and focus groups in order to gauge what aspects of dining should be improved for students.
Last spring, Dean of The College William Green arranged a discussion between the consultants and students of the Deans’ Advisory Committee in order to provide some additional feedback for the proposed changes. “I tried to connect students to ARAMARK, to make meal plans work to enhance the College and be economically viable,” Green said. “Some of the students’ concerns raised in those meetings were addressed in the new plans, but others still remain to be dealt with.”
“[We asked administrators] what is your dining philosophy,” Senior Manager of Contracts and Project Management Jack Noon told the CT in April. “It was very clear from the College – ‘We want community.'”
Despite suggestions from students and administrators, the Club Meals have faced criticism. “There are usually good choices for the combos in the Pit,” freshman DJ Dittman said. “However, it can be confusing to figure out what is included in certain combo meals.”
“There aren’t usually more than two places where you can go for any given meal, and those meals are at very random times,” freshman Stephen Frank said. “The food you can have for a Club Meal is very restricted – it is a poor value.”
“Club Meals are a rip off, I’m paying $11 for a meal worth $6” freshman Alanna Tievsky said. “The lines are awful – I’ve had to wait more than 20 minutes for food.”
“I bet that half of the freshman on my hall will be out of declining by the end of the month,” D’Lion and sophomore Ted Offner said. “They are forced to resort to using it because Club Meals are so ineffective.”
The meal plan changes were twofold. First, Dining Services wanted to promote its Real Food on Campus program so that it was more convenient for students to have a nutritious lunch. Also, “the design of the old meal plan drove the cost of the program up,” newly appointed ARAMARK Resident District Manager Brad Bingaman said. “When everything became voluntary, the revenue went away and the meal plan was no longer financially sound. Having a mandatory meal plan for all students will cover the fixed costs. Covering our fixed costs lets us be more competitive and have more options.”
Upperclassmen recall that information about the new dining plans was not distributed until late last spring. The packets describing the meal plans did not offer clear and complete information about the new dining options, according to some students.
Upon returning to campus last week, many were surprised and confused by the meal plan changes.
“If I knew they were going to change the dining plans,” sophomore Laura Larkin said, “limiting the flexibility of blocks, then I would have chosen a declining balance.”
“ARAMARK and the university designed a new dining plan based on what students were looking for – value and variety,” Bingaman said. “Finding value is a balancing act between a quality program and the best price to meet the needs of most.”
“The changes made were not just for financials,” Noon said. “The goal of restructuring is to provide the best value while creating a process to fund ongoing renovations.”
The dining consultants benchmarked UR’s services to those of universities of a similar caliber, including Cornell University, Ithaca College, University of Buffalo, Washington University at St. Louis, and University of Chicago.
“Rochester is on the high side price wise,” dining consultant John Cornyn said.
Regarding facilities, Hillside Caf is a new dining center in Sue B. that offers Java City beverages, smoothies, omelets, pizza, soup and sandwiches. The caf is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. every night.
“Hillside is being received very well,” Food Service Director for Hillside Caf Rachel Nemeth said. “I’ve heard nothing but great things. Students love that it’s open until 1 a.m.”
“I could possibly become addicted to this place,” freshman Sara Rupich said, referring to Hillside Caf. “I like coffee and the food is good. It has a coffee house feel.”
The Pit maintains hours from 7:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to midnight on weekends – however, students may only use Club Meals during certain non-peak hours. The rationale behind these limited hours for Club Meal diners, according to Bingaman, is to offer continuous dining during the day in various locations.
Meliora Express has changed its name to Club Express to feature Dining Service’s new Club Meal options. Also, Club Express has moved into the Hive on the fourth floor of Wilson Commons.
Additionally, the Student Activities Office will be sponsoring a program with ARAMARK called “Wilson Commons Wednesdays,” which will feature live music, free goodies and a specialty menu. “The building is hopping with people,” Director of Wilson Commons and Student Activities Anne-Marie Algier said. “We are very optimistic it will be a great year in the Commons.”
Danforth Dining Center has a substantially smaller schedule than in prior years. Danforth will only be open for dinner on weekdays. On weekends, Danforth will continue to offer brunch and dinner.
Douglass Dining Center is now part of the Real Food on Campus campaign as an All-You-Care-to-Eat restaurant from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. From 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Douglass returns to an a la carte restaurant.
All of these changes are part of the University’s greater effort to improve the dining experience and environment. “Customer feedback is extremely important because we can react. Customers have the best ideas,” Bingaman said. “The same is true if there is a bad experience. Service is a major issue and feedback helps us with employee development.” Students are encouraged to communicate with restaurant managers in person or via e-mail through Dining Service’s updated Web site.
In response to student complaints that it is difficult to cut through the building or meet with peers in Douglass Dining Center if they were not eating there, Dining Services tried moving the registers from the entrances to Douglass to the area in between the food preparation and dining areas.
Bingaman is committed to continuing to reevaluate dining issues, including Douglass. “This issue is not dead,” Bingaman said. “This is not so much a dining issue as it is a facilities issue. I can’t address facilities, the University needs to.” Next year, Douglass is likely to be an All-You-Care-to-Eat restaurant for lunch and dinner, which may require the facilities to be modified according to N
Changing the facilities – either structurally or functionally – and moving the registers allows ARAMARK to add more to the RFoC campaign. Some potential additions in Douglass include a salad bar, ice cream bar and dessert bar.
As the year progresses, Dining Services will have the opportunity to reevaluate some of the different food stations and staffing issues in order to provide students with the best quality food and service possible. Already ARAMARK has hired a full-time executive chief and several new managers.
ARAMARK, Dining Services, Green and members of the Students’ Association government are currently meeting to address complaints about facilities, hours and the new meal plans.
Additional reporting by Alissa Miller and Kerri Linden.Keesing can be reached at email@example.com.Schnee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.