Op-ed: Sodexo dining by no means perfect but on the right track

by Kelsey Hausman

Every FPU student has experienced the cafeteria, and very few have walked away with no complaints, over the past three years, the dining hall has made many improvements but students are still unsatisfied.

Students commonly complain about long lines, close quarters, and repetitive food choices in the cafeteria, but the caf faces challenges of being understaffed, cramped, financially restricted, and feeding hundreds of students daily.

(Photo: eRaven)

(Photo: eRaven)

With 1,315 students on a meal plan, Sodexo General Manager Matthew Vaillette understands that not every customer is going to walk away completely satiated, but he values their opinions and wants to hear them.

Since Vaillette took over as general manager in January of 2012, the cafeteria has only gotten better with every passing year. This is partially due to Vaillete’s focus on directly engaging and building relationships with the students and communicating with them to better understand their needs and wants.

“The students are the ones paying for the meal plan and eating the food. I want to communicate freely with them. Communication between the staff and the students is key to the students getting what they want in the Caf,” Vaillette said.

When it comes to financial challenges, Vaillette spends $1.2 to $1.3 million on food yearly, which according to him is a lot for a smaller university like FPU. Vaillette has to find the balance between quality meals and meeting his budget.

“My job is to act as a bank and effectively spend that money for nine months. I want you to have an effective meal plan from day one to day 210. I have to manage that budget for the course of the year,” said Vaillette.

The only way to overcome crowds caused by the cafeteria floor plan would be to construct an entirely new building. The cafeteria can only seat 400 people, this is why the two hour meeting period from 12:00-2:00 was done away with. The caf would not have been able to manage that many students eating within the same time frame, especially with the freshman class of over 600 on an all-inclusive meal plan.

Another challenge is a lack of staff. The staff is small and on days workers call in sick it makes the challenge of feeding students even greater. The teria has been trying to hire student workers since the beginning of the semester to make up for this.

Despite these uncontrollable obstacles, the staff still works to improve the one thing they can control, the food. The most noticeable changes in the past three years are the addition of the very popular sandwich bar, more of a selection of fruits and vegetables, and the center island station that offers made-to-order fried rice, crepes, omelets, and other items that change daily throughout the week.

If customers want to see something new or different served in the cafeteria they should fill out a suggestion card by the entrance to the cafeteria. These cards are for students to request specific foods they would like to see. Students are also welcome to talk directly to Vaillette or head chef Charlie Salmond, who are always open to student ideas.

“Every week, if you look at the comment cards Charlie has been answering them. There will be a time and date that item will be in our weekly menu planning. Within the week or so we try to remedy people’s requests,” Vaillette said.

A solution to students’ complaints about the space and long lines in the caf would be to build an entirely new dining hall with a revamped staff. Unfortunately, the university doesn’t have this type of money to spend. Students need to realize the cafeteria is doing its best with what it has, and it is their responsibility to communicate their wants and needs with the staff.


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