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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Better listeners? Sodexo proves to hear students’ demands

Published: November 22, 2013
Section: Opinions

When the community discovered last semester that the university would use Sodexo as our main dining provider and not Aramark, I was pleased. Aramark had its good aspects, but it seemed sub-par to many students. The prices of items in the C-store, the point-to-dollar ratio, the lack of national chains and meal plan costs were some of the more contentious problems Aramark dealt with. When Sodexo took the reins, some of these problems were solved. The library got a Starbucks and the V-store is now a Dunkin’ Donuts. Sushi has become much more common in Usdan. There is a food truck here on the weekends late at night. Yet problems that plagued Aramark still exist under Sodexo, such as dining hours and meal prices. As some may have expected, Sodexo’s supremacy adds new problems, such as Brandeis After Dark, limited weekend stations in Sherman and the lack of pork products available on campus.

Brandeis After Dark, which is what Sodexo turned Ollie’s into, remains a place of confusion. The first time I attempted to go, I looked at the website for hours, visited while it was allegedly open and was told that it would not open at those hours for another week. When I did go, the late night menu was visually appealing, but to find what one could order was akin to following a treasure map. Only a few items off the regular menu can be ordered, since the others are not available for some unexplained reason. The breakfast buffet, which they have instead to compensate for a limited menu, ranges from $5 to $6.99, depending on how early in the year one goes. The place still retains the completely arbitrary $5 meal equivalency that Aramark utilized. This buffet had three or four items, and to help differentiate who can eat at the buffet, the restaurant added the necessity of wristbands. I’m trying to eat, not go on a roller coaster. The staff were nice, but the experiences I had there lacked gusto and pleasure. Brandeis After Dark should at least have a better laid-out menu and not devolve to using wristbands to keep patrons in check.

One problem that Sodexo seems to have more trouble with is weekend availability. From Friday night to Monday morning, a good third of campus dining is shut down and open in a sequential system. Only one or two places are open, and in those open places, the options are severely limited. I went to non-kosher Sherman last Saturday afternoon. I expected, as Aramark did before, a variety of brunch stations where one could get breakfast and lunch at any time of the day. When I entered, the cashier informed me that all they had open were two stations, and none of them were breakfast items. She handed me a list of when certain stations were open and where one could find eggs. Weekend dining here has always been bad, but when half of the only establishment open is not utilized, it becomes ludicrous. I do believe that Dunkin’ Donuts will have consistent hours seven days a week, so I know that Sodexo is aware of this problem’s existence. Either way, consistent hours are a necessity here.

Another problem one can see is the seeming lack of pork and shellfish on campus. Aramark offered diners shellfish, pork and bacon at Usdan’s dining halls and on the non-kosher side in Sherman. Now, Sodexo ensured that there will be no pork products on campus, and any traditionally pork product, such as ham and bacon, is made from turkey. If people like bacon, let them eat bacon. It does not matter if Sodexo wants to “make students healthier” by substituting turkey bacon and ham for the pork versions. Sodexo must listen to its customers: the students.

Despite the problems of no pork, Brandeis After Dark and limited weekend service, Sodexo has done a great job listening to our complaints and suggestions, and I commend them for that. They kept breakfast all day in Usdan when the sandwich station was not received well. They turned the Meatball Madness station in Upper Usdan to a pasta corner, even adding more food to that area. They added a stir-fry station there as well. I applaud Sodexo for all the work it has done and will do, but it has a long way to go. Extending hours, options and meal plans are all good starts. If there’s one advantage that Sodexo has over Aramark, it’s that Sodexo listens. That was my biggest complaint under Aramark: The students would complain, and nothing would change. Now, the students are cared about. Thank you, Sodexo, for lending an ear.