On Thursday, Jan. 21, the Office of Auxiliary Business Services and GUSA held a Dining and Meal Plan Town Hall. The speakers outlined what they had learned about dining behavior on campus, the selection process of a dining hall vendor, and opened the floor to student input.
Joelle Wiese, Vice President of Auxiliary Services, was joined at the event by Rob White, President of Envision Strategies, a consulting firm. The Office of Auxiliary Services hired the firm last August to study the campus and make recommendations for dining. “Rob White is here from Envision Strategies to really work through a process,” Wiese said. “It’s kind of broken down into three phases. The first phase is actually to do a study of campus, our programs, get a lot of feedback from the community, which this is a piece of.”
According to White, the town hall was a way for campus administrators and Envision Strategies to get better insight into the data they gathered at earlier stages.
White and Wiese mentioned that the end of this phase of the process would end with a Request for Proposal (RFP) on Operator Dining Selection.
White, who has worked with dining on other campuses, noted some things that made Georgetown a different case. While most universities have one or two dining providers, Georgetown’s campus has five different groups. Additionally, the university has a relatively large graduate population and a population of hospital staff. White said that the Georgetown meal plans are fairly typical, but unusual in the amount of exchanges students are allowed to use.
White went through what the firm had learned from the 21 focus groups on dining and the 2800 survey responses they had gathered. These included where and when those on campus ate, and suggested improvements to the dining hall. His analysis of student’s cuisine preferences illustrated how difficult it can be to design a dining hall menu. “The demand for authentic, ethnic, international foods has skyrocketed,” he said. “There’s a countervailing trend though, that’s a desire for simplicity.”
GUSA Vice President Connor Rohan pointed to the fact that the top two improvements students requested were about food quality and price. “The fact that we’re paying a lot and getting very little is telling me that we are clearly paying for things that are clearly not the meal plan, despite the fact of being mandated at some point in our lives to pay,” he said. “Where exactly is that money going?”
The meeting continued with an explanation of next steps. According to Wiese, the working group for the Request for Proposal had its kickoff meeting the week before the town hall. The working group is composed of about 25 people, including five undergraduate students and people from different parts of campus such as athletics, facilities and campus engagement, “people from all over who have some kind of input into what dining is on campus,” said Wiese.
The RFP is intended to be a “framework of what of it is that we’re looking for our dining program here on campus,” said Wiese. It is set to be released on March 3 to all vendors, and three or four primary vendors are expected to bid on the business.
The process then includes a meeting and tour with any interested companies, after which proposals from the companies are expected to be due on April 14. “By then all companies interested will send Georgetown proposals, ideas, menus, stocking and training,” explained Wiese.
Interested companies are to give proposal presentations to the working group in early May, after which an open house is to be held where companies and the general Georgetown community can interact directly. Wiese explained that the next step is creating a short list with feedback, with the goal of awarding a contract this summer that would go into effect in the summer of 2017. Updates on the next steps of the process are to be posted online.
As for what the contract itself is going to be like, White said, “A typical contract would be 3-5 years. Some go longer, but the important part is that every year there’s an update to that, because you don’t just stand still.”