Come this May, Hofstra’s dining committee will decide which company will provide food services to the Hofstra community for the next 10 years, which will result in major changes in the dining halls and facilities on campus.
“No matter who gets the contract, there will be significant changes,” said Vice President for Student Affairs W. Houston Dougharty. “It’s kind of exciting because we are starting from square one, no matter who it is.”
Compass Group, Hofstra’s current culinary service provider, subsumed Lackman Dining Services, the company with which the university first signed a contract 10 years ago. The contract expires this year, and so Dougharty, along with fellow committee members Joseph Barkwill (vice president of Facilities and Operations), Catherine Hennessy (vice president for Financial Affairs and treasurer), Sofia Pertuz (dean of students and assistant vice president of Student Affairs) and four student representatives, are reviewing proposals from the major food suppliers Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group in order to make a decision by next month.
Even if the committee decides to sign with the current provider, the changes will be significant as Compass Group submitted a revamped program in their proposal.
“If a company who is not currently here comes in, it’s going to be a brand new program, almost unrecognizable … We’ve had a proposal from Lackman, but Compass took over. So even if the current company gets it, they’re going to approach it like a brand new project,” Dougharty said.
Complaints expressed to the Student Government Association (SGA), and during this year’s Town Hall revealed students’ dissatisfaction with aspects of the dining program. These concerns included inconvenient hours of operation, high food prices, limited organic and healthy options, as well as poor sustainability initiatives.
The committee has expressed a keen interest in addressing these concerns and made it clear in the Request for Proposal (RFP) that these were priorities for the new program. On top of healthier options, they requested more options for those with dietary restrictions including vegetarian, vegan, halal and kosher food. This could potentially include some kind of all-you-can-eat option, rather than having each vendor be a la carte. Dougharty explained that there is also a good chance that many of the brand names will be switched out for different, preferred brand names.
While the companies are in fierce competition for Hofstra’s business, they are forced to try and meet student demands in their proposals.
SGA student representative Francine Chirico, a senior philosophy major, said, “We met with a number of the suppliers and now we’re starting to get some proposals back from them that would result in the final contract. So far the ones that we’ve received have definitely listened to the things that we’ve said and taken them very strongly into consideration.”
The student members sit on the same committee as head university administrators to ensure that student voices are heard in the contract transition process.
“As far as I’m concerned, their role is absolutely critical in helping us identify not only the right company to go with, but the options within that choice,” Dougharty said. “Not only do they have a really influential role in helping us select who we go with, they have a really influential role in, then, influencing that company to deliver the kind of program that Hofstra students will be excited about.”
These students have been going through documents and participating in meetings with potential food suppliers for the campus, as well as collecting as many suggestions from Hofstra students as possible.
“As weird as it sounds, we do try to strike up conversations with as many students as we can. We do lurk on social media, we see all the complaints on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We really try to keep our eyes open for any platform for where it could be better,” Chirico said.
Sandra Read, a sophomore management major, sits on the committee as the Resident Hall Association (RHA) representative.
“[As for] all the voices that we have on the committee and the opinions of students, I feel like we’ve really been able to communicate that to the potential companies and they’re really taking that into consideration,” Read said. “I think the goal out of this is to get the best program for students as possible because the current company did takeover a previous contract, so we’ve kind of been in this transition for the past two and a half years.”
Dougharty said the changeover will not be completed in one summer. Given the expanse of the system and the many venues, he predicts that it will be a two or three year plan.
“I want our students to be proud and excited about the dining experience here. So much of our lives circulate around meals we have together. That’s one of the ways we create community and it’s also how we stay healthy. A lot of our students live on campus. This is their sole source of nutrition,” Dougharty said. “Consequently, since the bottom line of my job is student success, the happier students are, the healthier students are and the more excited they are about their dining options, the better it is. There is no reason why we can’t have a responsive and proactive and really attractive dining program here.”
The content and details of the received proposals are confidential until the university makes a decision as to which company will be hired.