New food service vendor brings changes to campus, with mixed results

Posted February 3, 2016

UW-River Falls is now in the second semester of food services on campus being provided by a new vendor, and reactions to the change are mixed.

Chartwells, part of the British company Compass Group PLC, took over the food service contract in the University Center on June 1, replacing Sodexo, a global business based in France. Chartwells had the food service contract before losing it to Sodexo.

Contracts are typically seven years long, said Cara Rubis, director of the University Center and Dining Services. The major difference between Chartwells and Sodexo is the contract itself.

“The framework for how we operate for seven years is based upon the contract that we agree to,” Rubis said. “Our contract with Sodexo had different agreements in it than our contract with Chartwells.”

The process takes about a year to review the contract and make changes to the current contract. During the contract negotiation period, Rubis and Dining Services went to the students and, more specifically, the Dining Services Advisory Committee (DSAC) for feedback.

“Most of our feedback comes from DSAC, which has representation from across campus in all the residence halls, as well as students that live off campus,” Rubis said.

Lucas Schmidt is the Chair of DSAC and he said the main function of DSAC is to get feedback from students about how Chartwells does as a whole.

“They (Chartwells) will take any feedback whether it is bad feedback or good feedback,” Schmidt said. “Usually it ends up being what they can improve in Riverside Commons, but sometimes it includes the retail venues as well.”

Schmidt mentioned that the reaction of the students to Chartwells has been mixed. He said that some students say that Chartwells’ food is much better than Sodexo.

The pricing of the meal plan program that is available to all UW-River Falls students remained the same outside of one major addition: The all-access meal plan was added to the weekly meal plans and the block plans.

“The all-access meal plan allows unlimited entries into Riverside Commons,” Rubis said. “We found that some students have special diets that require them to snack all day versus eating three big meals per day.”

To go along with the all-access meal plan, a full-time, registered dietician now works at UW-River Falls.

Renovations to Riverside Commons and other areas of the University Center accompanied the switch to Chartwells, as well as a new national brand made its way into the University Center.

“Over the summer, once summer registration finished, the dining facilities were torn up and put back together just in time for the 2015-2016 academic year,” Rubis said.

The coffee shop known as “Peregrine Perk” is now “Einstein Bros Bagels” and the popular submarine sandwich shop “Erberts and Gerberts” is now in an area of the University Center where it is available to patrons during more than just lunch time. Riverside Commons is more open than it was in the past, so it is easier for students to find their friends that are already eating.

Luke Bowe is a junior who lives off campus and he has a block meal plan. He said he has not noticed too many changes between Sodexo and Chartwells.

“I really didn’t notice any changes. The food seems pretty much the same to me even though they said have new items,” Bowe said. “Some of the main courses have been repetitive, so a little variety would be nice sometimes.”

Bowe also mentioned that his military benefits pay for the meal plan and that makes it convenient to eat while he is on campus.

Chartwells strives to make improvements when improvements are needed. Those improvements range from subtle changes that can be made overnight to additions that are in the making for the future.

Chartwells will be opening a retail dining facility in the new Falcon Center athletic complex.

“There will be a new food retail venue at the Falcon Center, but we still need to confirm what concept will be at the venue,” Rubis said. “We want to make sure it is a concept where the food offerings work for the different parts of the day.”

Chartwells will also be overseeing the concessions at the Falcon Center once it opens.