We love to hate them: Glorpy salad dressing, mystery meat, tropical surprise coffee, and dried-out rice. If there’s one thing about Carleton that binds us together, it’s either Frisbee or griping about the taste of Sodexho food (probably the latter).
So when the dining hall contract came up for renewal this year, it generated plenty of student interest. The Facebook group devoted to the contract renewal process, Carls for Delicious Dining, had 248 members as of October 11. That’s approximately 14% of the student body! About thirty students attended the Dining Hall Public Forum last Wednesday.
At the meeting, the four students on the Dining Hall Task Force gave a brief history of the dining hall service at Carleton. Sodexho has been with us for forty years, though not always under that name. Before 1967 Carleton managed its own dining services, but in 1967 it hired it out to SAGA, later dubbed Mariott, which became Sodexho through a series of mergers.
In 2002 the Carleton administration renewed Sodexho’s contract with little fanfare. Many students were upset with the move, so this year the administration is putting the dining hall contract up for bid. Four providers will be considered for the job: Sodexho (please God, no!), Bon Appetit (which we all know and love from illicit trips to the St. Olaf dining hall), Aramark (a large dining services provider that serves over 500 schools), and Creative Dining Services (a smaller service based in Maine that we’ve never tasted).
Choosing the dining service provider to go under contract for next year will be a long and involved process undertaken by the Dining Hall Task Force. The DHTF is a committee composed of representatives from Admissions, Alumni Affairs, and Graduation, as well as Vice President and Treasurer Fred Rogers, and four students: Evan Rowe ’09, Leah Greenberg ’08, Amanda Hess ’08, and Vera Chang ’09. It is the four students’ job to represent student opinion about the dining hall to the Task Force.
Later this fall, the four company bidders will tour campus to see what facilities they will have to work with, and the Task Force will draw up a document listing their suggestions for the bidders. The bidding companies then have until January 10 to submit proposals. The Task Force will submit its recommendation to the College Council mid-January, who will then make the final recommendation for the 2008-2009 school year.
Will the process involve taste-testing? Sadly, it looks doubtful. Evan Rowe explained that chefs at a taste-testing event would probably bring out their very best ingredients, which wouldn’t give an accurate idea of what day-to-day dining hall food would be like. There are possible plans, though, to take field trips to other colleges with these providers to see what their food is like. This could involve more “research” at St. Olaf, particularly in analyzing their one-of-a-kind Cookie Wall.
If you’d like your voice heard on the dining hall decision, act now, while the Task Force is writing up suggestions for the dining service providers. More healthy and vegetarian items? Meal plan flexibility? Local foods? Less dried-out rice? Whatever your ideas, there are several ways you can make your opinions heard.
The four students on the Task Force have created a Facebook group, Carls for Delicious Dining. The group has eight discussion boards where you can post questions and input on topics such as nutrition, religious and cultural preferences, sustainability, and the snack bar. If you want to submit your ideas anonymously, you can send an e-mail to email@example.com.
There’s also a wiki page associated with the dining hall selection process at http://nfldkitchen.pbwiki.com/Carleton-Opportunity. It’s focused mainly on the possibility of opening a small café on campus in conjunction with the local Co-op.
Regardless of the bidding outcomes, we're stuck with Sodexho until the end of the year.
Our advice? Pile on the Sriracha sauce and stock up on the cranberry-wheat (ie AMAZING) bread when they serve it.