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UWRF Chartwells dining contract up for review

February 28, 2008

At the end of this semester, UW-River Falls will be in search of a new dining services contract. Let the bidding begin.

“The existing contract [with Chartwells] ends May 31, 2008,” Jerry Waller, the UWRF director of Dining Services, said.

UWRF has been under the current contract with Chartwells since January of 1995, according to Waller. The expiration of the contract with Chartwells allows the University to take bids and proposals from other food service providers.

“It’s through the UW System Office of Procurement and what it’s called is a Request Form Proposal (RFP),” Waller said. “Basically we put a notice out that we’re looking for a food service provider and we ask for companies to bid on the service.”

The food service providers that will be putting in contract bids at UWRF will have to abide by specific criteria set up by the University.

“There are things that we’ve established as important to us and we want to consider food quality and variety—it is obviously an important consideration,” Waller said. “It’s a wide-open bid at this point.”
The University does not request certain types of foods to be available in its dining centers.

“We do not spec [inspect] the product line; we do not spec that there is going to be any particular food per se.” Waller said. “We do establish the general direction and goals we’re looking at.”

There are a number of aspects that UWRF is going to have to take into consideration when it comes to selecting a contract with a food service provider. Pricing, meal plans and transfer hours will all be key aspects to consider in a new food contract.

“For people that live on campus, transfers during the day would be nice,” Diana Schueller, a UWRF junior said. “Sometimes the Grab ‘n Go store in the UC doesn’t always have appetizing food options as well.”

The Grab ‘n Go store (Freddy’s C-store) does have transfer hours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, according to the UWRF Student Affairs Web site, but the only other venue that has transfer hours other than the Riverside Commons cafeteria is Coyote Jack’s Grill. Mamma Leone’s, The Roots Café, Mondo Subs and Peregrine Perk have no lunch transfer hours. This limits food options for students who dine on campus.

“We need more options for people that don’t go inside of the cafeteria,” Schueller said.

Suggestions for improved dining like the ones mentioned by Schueller have not fallen upon deaf ears. UWRF has a student-led Dining Services Advisory Committee that takes into consideration student dining needs and preferences.

“The committee is made up of a bunch of people from campus; there’s one rep from each of the residence halls, the UCC [University Curriculum Committee] and the Student Senate can have someone there if they choose,” Natasha Sedgwick, the chairperson of the Dining Services Advisory Committee said. “We get together every other week and we talk about things going on in Dining Services. We also hand out surveys and things like that to try and get student feedback on how things are going in dining services, and what kind of changes they would like to see.”

Eight key observations were made from the student survey data according to a Dec. 2007 UWRF Dining Services Meal Plan Participant Survey Report. Some of the observations showed that students preferred home-style cooking, one fifth of meal plan participants had vegetables with every meal and 44 percent of students with a meal plan were not concerned with nutritional information when selecting a meal plan. The no. 1 concern of students is lack of variety, according to the survey data. Nearly 46 percent of students listed this as their major concern.

UWRF faculty and staff also took part in surveys about dining on campus. They were asked a variety of questions similar to those presented to students. $4.01-$5.00 was the price that the majority (38 percent) of faculty and staff said was reasonable for lunch. Faculty and staff were presented with six prices on this particular question ranging from $3 to over $8.

One topic that was thoroughly debated in the Dining Service Advisory Committee last semester was whether or not to have mandatory meal plans for freshmen and sophomores living on campus. The committee eventually settled on keeping mandatory meal plans for the aforementioned groups.

“The reasoning for that is that with the RFP we can guarantee more people and this should bring the prices [of food] down a bit,” Sedgwick said.

The food services contract may be expiring with Chartwells, but this doesn’t mean that Chartwells will not continue to be the University food provider.

“I want to make it clear for people that this means we are not necessarily getting rid of Chartwells,” Sedgwick said. “[If the University stays with Chartwells] it will be a new contract. No matter what, things are going to look very different in the fall.”