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University looking at food vendors

Sodexo’s contract is set to expire in June, and other food providers are bidding to take it.

With Sodexo’s contract set to expire at the end of the spring semester, Temple is considering other food service providers’ bids to take over the university’s dining services. The Purchasing Department will present its decision to the Board of Trustees in October, officials said.

Sodexo, a food-service company based in Buffalo, New York, is the current provider for dining services across campus. Dining Services provides food in every location that accepts meal swipes. Its nearly $24 million contract is set to expire in June 2017, said Licelis Lamboy Brewington, one of Sodexo’s general managers at Temple.

But before the 10-year contract is up, the university’s Office of Business Services issued a request for proposals from food service companies over the summer, and the Purchasing Department is set to make a decision within the next month.

From Johnson & Hardwick cafeteria to Morgan Hall, Sodexo provides dining services at 17 locations on three of Temple’s campuses, said Michael Mahaffey, Sodexo’s resident district manager. Sodexo has been Temple’s provider for 28 years.

“We want it to go to 38,” Mahaffey said.

Before putting out the bid, Temple hosted tours of the dining locations. Mahaffey said five companies participated, including the three largest food service providers in the United States: Sodexo, Compass and Aramark. He said Sodexo and Aramark submitted proposals, made presentations and cleared the bidding state, putting the decision in the hands of the university’s purchasing department.

“We’re in the process of being assessed, so we won’t know until they vote on that,” said Brewington, referring to the purchasing department’s vote to select a provider.

The selection process begins with a request for proposal, which is a formal document that outlines questions and requirements a buyer like Temple might have. Vendors respond with the details and pricing of their services.

“Temple’s RFP to choose the best dining services provider is ongoing,” said Michael Scales, associate vice president for Temple’s Office of Business Services in an email. “Until it is complete and a contract is finalized, we must maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the procurement process.”

Would Sodexo’s long-standing relationship with Temple work in its favor for a renewed contract deal? For Mahaffey, it’s a double-edged sword.

“Aramark didn’t serve anybody a burnt piece of toast yesterday,” he said. “We may have. In our business, we use the saying, ‘We’re only as good as your last meal.’ Anyone who’s not here can say everything’s perfect.”

Mahaffey said Temple had two broad criteria in their request for proposals: service to students and financial return to the university. To ensure student satisfaction, Sodexo conducts focus groups, customer satisfaction surveys, and works with Cherry Consulting, Temple’s student-run marketing consulting team with the Fox School of Business to determine student needs.

Richard Green, another of Sodexo’s general managers for Temple, said Cherry Consulting has helped advise Sodexo on “communications to the students and how we work to getting information out to them.”

The results of this market research have been rewarding, said Mahaffey.

“We sell, at this point, over 3,500 off-campus meal plans,” he said. “It’s one of the highest numbers in the country. I always say students vote with their feet. They walk in and eat with us. And you wouldn’t get those numbers if people weren’t happy.”

He cited changes at Morgan Hall as an example of success.

“When that first opened three years ago, it was all retail, and the students said, ‘No, no, we want all-you-care-to-eat,’ so we converted the second floor,” Mahaffey said. “Hugely successful. It’s led to a lot of that sign-up meal plans.”

In its presentation to Temple’s Business Services, Sodexo outlined a grand vision.

“Our goal is to completely renovate the Student Center dining options as it’s a little old and a little dark on that second floor,” Mahaffey said. “[We want to] bring new concepts and new life to a central location that’s very important to students.”

Mahaffey said Aramark has probably made similar points in their presentation, but he believes Sodexo has an edge because they can begin the renovation earlier.

“We can begin it during the school year,” he said. “Anyone else’s contract wouldn’t start until July 1.”

A spokeswoman for Aramark declined to comment.

In the longer term, Sodexo has its sights set on the opening of a new Rec Center next year, the new library in two years, and the potential for a football stadium. Each of these projects could include spaces to sell food.

In the meantime, Sodexo awaits Temple’s decision.

“We look forward to continuing the partnership serving our students,” said Brewington.

 Walter James can be reached at walter.motoi.james@temple.edu.

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