Food for thought

This stock photo is courtesy stock.xchng. No Sodexo brand food has been featured in this story.

Marquette Student Government took notice when reports of dissatisfaction with the food on campus began to rise as a chief concern among students.

After MUSG passed a recommendation to terminate the contract with Sodexo, the university’s food service provider, questions arose over Sodexo’s relationship with Marquette and how the university authorizes food service.

MUSG President Henry Thomas, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, said that before the legislation was passed at the end of last semester, there seemed to be a communicative disconnect between MUSG and Sodexo.

“Some senators felt they weren’t getting the right answers,” Thomas said. “Since the legislation, there has been more communication and dialogue.”

The recommendation prompted a Tribune investigation into the terms of the contract between Marquette and Sodexo. The proposed content of the article was to focus on how Marquette and Sodexo work together, what is expected of Sodexo’s service and how both evaluate satisfaction, quality and pricing.

Two weeks ago, calls requesting in-person interviews were placed to Vice President of Administration Art Scheuber, a university administrator, and General Manager of University Dining Service Dan Auger, a Sodexo employee. Administrative assistants for both offices replied that Scheuber and Auger would return calls once time allowed.

After a week without response, the Tribune sent personal e-mails to Scheuber, Auger and Todd Vicker, executive director of the Alumni Memorial Union and Auxiliary Enterprises, asking them about the prospect of in-person interviews. After days of e-mailed negotiations, administrators said their schedules would not allow for in-person interviews.

“I’d be glad to respond to your questions,” Vicker said in an e-mail on March 5. “Please feel free to e-mail your list.”

The Tribune sent an e-mail containing a set of 25 specific questions to Scheuber, Vicker and Auger.

Questions were designed after the Tribune compared pricing offered by different food service providers at colleges and universities throughout Wisconsin.

Questions included:

  • Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design’s breakfast is $3, when Marquette’s is $4.25. Both employ Sodexo. Is there a need for any extra charges?
  • Where would the extra revenue go?
  • Are there Marquette and Sodexo representatives who work together?
  • Are there any other checks to ensure quality and satisfaction are maintained?

An e-mail sent from Vicker said all parties involved would work on one collaborative response to address the questions.

Here are the questions sent in an e-mail March 7 to Scheuber, Auger and Vicker:

“1. Can you give a general description of the relationship between Marquette and Sodexo?

2. What is the history between the two?

3. Is Sodexo the only outside company at Marquette?

4. Is there a contract between the two?

5. What does the contract specify? What written expectations are in place?

6. Is there anyway to view the contract?

7. What does Marquette ask of Sodexo?

8. How does Sodexo provide it?

9. Is there a minimum or maximum amount of service Sodexo must provide?

10. What else would a contract require Sodexo to do?

11. How long is the contract for?

12. When was it signed?

13. Is there a contract evaluation process?

14. How often would that occur?

15. How would the evaluation process work?

16. How responsive is Marquette and Sodexo to surveys and satisfaction feedback?

17. Would that data figure into the contract evaluation process?

18. How are prices set?

19. Are prices ever subject to change?

20. For instance: MIAD’s breakfast is $3, when ours is $4.25. Both employ Sodexo, is there a need for any extra charges?

21. Where would the extra revenue go?

22. How does Marquette and Sodexo maintain quality of the food?

23. Is that specified in the contract as well?

24. Are there Marquette and Sodexo representatives who work together?

25. Are there any other checks to make sure quality and satisfaction are maintained?”

The Tribune received the following e-mail as of press time:

“The following email represents a collective response on behalf of all the parties you have solicited within the Marquette Administration and food services management team.

Sodexo has been a good partner for the university.  Marquette’s core competency is education and Sodexo is a leader in the food service industry. Sodexo has brought many new services to our campus; Carte Blanc meal plans, Block meal plans, Dining Dollars, WOW Café And Wingery, Brew Bayou, Brew Raynor, Brew Straz, Brew Law, Brew Cudahy, continuous service in residence halls, late night dining at McCormick, Destination Dining at Schroeder, the Natural Market, nutritional analysis information, full service bakeshop, the Market Place, the Lunda Room, Global Chefs from around the world, Campus Kitchens, etc.  Much has been written about food services in the Tribune over the years that you should reference for more details.

The specific terms of our contract our confidential.  Sodexo is required to provide campus wide food services.  The evaluation process occurs daily.  Sodexo solicits feedback from students and administrators through a variety of means; comment cards, surveys, food service committees and advisory boards.  They have been extremely responsive to all this feedback adjusting menus, products, and services continuously. We do see increased satisfaction scores in the areas we have been able to implement their vision for our campus.

The university and Sodexo mutually agree on prices annually.  Many variables are used to determine prices.  The level of service at every institution is different and the costs associated with those services are also different at every institution.

Todd Vicker, executive director of the Alumni Memorial Union and Auxiliary Enterprises”