McDaniel Dining Part Two: Transparency and Suggestions

(Kyle Parks / McDaniel Free Press)

Undoubtedly, Sodexo frequently falls under the fire of criticisms, but how does McDaniel Dining Service process these and try to be transparent? 

According to the General Manager of McDaniel Dining Services, Rita Webster, Sodexo employs a variety of platforms in attempt to keep customers informed and connected. Online, McDaniel Dining can be found on Twitter, Facebook, OrgSync, and its own website. Additionally, surveys are conducted online, there is the option to text a manager directly with any concerns, and a secret shopper program has been utilized.

Other than these, Sodexo holds monthly “Dinner on Us” events  in which students are served higher quality food and given opportunities to meet Ms. Webster and her colleagues. Webster states, “I would… like to have more students understand what our goals are and communicate.”

Moreover, she claims, “Unless you work and know the people on a one-on-one basis it’s kind of hard to really understand what we do in a day.” She says that this is a two-way concept: she tries to show students what dining services does, while she also seeks to see what students do.

In fact, says Webster, the recent integration of meal exchanges with Vocelli’s Pizza is the result of suggestions at Dinner on Us. Additionally, student suggestions are the reasons for more fresh fruit on Wednesdays and other times of the week , although other examples exist. The hours of the dining hall are also based on suggestions.

Criticism #1

Last year, many students were critical of the late distribution of meal plan information. On this, Webster acknowledges that it should’ve been available earlier, saying, “…because it was a change and it was worked on so late in the season, we didn’t have a lot of opportunities to advertise it.” On this, and other issues, she states that she seeks to plan these earlier in the future. Still, as asserted by Webster, “We did go through communications with the school and we did put out a flier, we put out campus announcements.” In the end, this issue still became a primary concern in a town hall meeting last semester and many of us remember a petition protesting the changes.

Criticism #2

There is a general lack of commercial locations on campus, unlike many other schools. This was highlighted in the previous article in this series, but nonetheless Webster claims that there have been attempts to bring in more commercial clients, but McDaniel does not bring in enough traffic to interest any; however, Vocelli’s is a commercial location. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done here. Larger universities have the ability to bring in tons of vendors due to high traffic, which is something McDaniel doesn’t have.

Criticism #3

There is a widespread feeling among students that Sodexo simply makes the meal plans whatever they wish, especially with the switch to weekly plans. However, says Webster, current meal plans are based off of parent suggestions. She states, “There was a lot of feedback from parents. They wanted to be making sure that their son or daughter had a meal available at each opportunity.” This was seconded by Dean Gerl, who claims that members of the McDaniel community wanted a meal plan that would allow students to eat at every opportunity, which materialized as the “GOLD Plan.”

Yet, as there was a loss of freedom (and an increased cost burden on students due to the mandatory purchase of more meals), this was a hard pill to swallow for students used to meal plans with a allotment per semester rather than per week. At the same time, it possibly gave parents, who, for many of us, at least assist in paying for this experience, more peace of mind. According to Dean Gerl, another factor was a strong tendency among students to run out of meals towards the end of the semester and then be forced to buy more expensive block plans to finish the semester or not eat. 

Interestingly, however, Dr. Ethan Seidel of the Economics and Business Administration department, as well as Dean Gerl, say that these decisions are mutually executed by administration and Sodexo. The company is brought in for their expertise to consult administration and vice versa.  

Ultimately, however, perfectly satisfying the expectations of young people in a nation with one of the highest global standards of living and a super competitive market is no easy task. Costs perpetually limit certain suggestions and criticisms from being addressed. In the end, however, Webster claims, “student input is the major driving force behind all of the menus…”

Read part one: “Cost and Variety.”

Read part three: “Serving the McDaniel Community.”