Students give input as dining contract expires in July

Joanna Gartman

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Students and staff have lunch in Mesquite Café between the 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. lunch rush Tuesday. Photo by Lauren Roberts

Students and staff have lunch in Mesquite Café between the 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. lunch rush Tuesday. Photo by Lauren Roberts

All residents of Killingsworth, Pierce and McCullough-Trigg Halls are required to purchase a meal plan, and that won’t change, but the university’s contract with Aramark might. The contract will expire at the end of July 2015, and Michael Mills, director of housing and dining services, said two companies in addition to Aramark have already shown interest in signing the next contract: Sodexo and Chartwells.

“Even if Aramark is chosen, you’ll still see quite a bit of change. The dining hall concept that we have is at least 15 years old, and things change over time, students change,” Mills said. “I think any of the companies are going to come back and tell us they want to change the way we do things. I don’t know that that’s a negative against Aramark, that’s just the concept they’ve been operating under.”

Mills said he sent out a request for proposals last Friday and companies will submit their proposals Dec. 11 so members of housing and dining services can review the proposals over the break. Mills said they will interview with the food providers the first week of January and then recommend their choice to the Board of Regents in February, leaving little time for students to give their input on the potential contract change.

Of 50 people surveyed leaving the café, 63 percent said the quality of the food served in Mesquite Café was not worth the expense paid for the meals.

Whether or not the meal plan prices are appropriate, the housing department requires residents of Killingsworth, Pierce and McCullough-Trigg Halls to purchase meal plans.

For Adam McGee, a music education sophomore, this requirement bears no burden.

“I eat [in the Café] everyday, three times a day,” McGee said.

The residents have options on the number of meals allotted to them each week according to their personal preferences.

The most popular meal plan offered is the platinum membership, providing 19 meals per week. The average cost per meal, if all meals are taken advantage of over a 16-week semester, is $4.97. The platinum membership also includes 65 D.B. dollars, or declining balance dollars, which is essentially $65 that members may use in other dining locations on campus such as Java City in the bookstore.

McGee lands among the 39 percent polled that said they enjoy the Café’s food.

Kristen Gregg, nursing sophomore, said she needs less food so she is on the five-meals-per-week plan. Under this plan the average cost per meal is $8.75.

Gregg, like many meal-plan holders, does not benefit from a number of the meals she has purchased.

“I have a five-meal-per-week plan and I probably only use about five of my meals a month,” Gregg said.

At this rate, Gregg is paying approximately $31.25 per meal.

“If I liked the food more I would eat [in the café] more often but right now I usually only go if I don’t have any food in my apartment because it’s more convenient than driving somewhere,” Gregg said.

Blossom Odemudia, biology senior, said, “Some days I just don’t like what [Mesquite Café] has and that is the worst.”

Alternatives for the café meals lie within the D.B. dollars. In Sundance Food Court, students can find a Quiznos Subs, Grille Works, convenience store items, smoothies and now Chinese food. Most of the meal plans include D.B. dollars, which work like money in these locations.

“Probably my favorite part of my meal plan is the 75 bucks I get to spend,” Gregg said.

The D.B. dollars make the on-campus dining more desirable, according to Gregg.

Niche.com, a website that reviews college campuses on a number of criteria, awarded Midwestern State University a grade of a “B+” for on-campus food and ranked MSU 350 out of 1,174 schools for on-campus eating.

Of the students polled, 50 percent of meal plan holders plan to renew their meal plans for the upcoming spring and fall semesters.

McGee said, “It feeds me the way I need to be fed and it’s still better than my high school’s food.”

Mesquite Café’s menu purports to offer variety to its customers, from fountain drinks to a salad bar and cereal station. Four food stations serve students in the café, each with a different assortments of food such as pizza, hamburgers and burritos.

Austin Snyder, engineering freshman, said, “It’s kind of fun because you never know what the caf will be serving that day. It’s usually something different on different days.”

According to Campus Dish, MSU’s dining service website, breakfast, lunch, and dinner have an all-you-care-to-eat style of dining.

Odemudia said, “The food in the caf is more about the quantity than the quality because you can always go back for more food.”

All-you-care-to-eat carries no false advertisement yet holds conditional aspects, according to Snyder.

“Its’ called all you can eat but really it depends on how much the servers will give you, and pretty often its smaller portions than I want,” Snyder said.

Café workers choose what size portion and which slice or piece each person receives rather than students serving themselves.

One-third of students polled said they have encountered negative experiences with the service provided in Mesquite Café, and 56 percent of polled students said they have undergone negative experiences with the café food having unsatisfactory qualities or conditions.

Coleman Reidling, a history sophomore, said, “I do find hairs in the food. It has been somewhat of a regular problem.”

Despite the hairy food he experienced, Reidling said, “I will continue to eat [in the café] though just because it’s just more convenient than any other option.”

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