Student Organizations respond to new catering prices

By AMANDA GHANNAM, Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Asia McArdell
Photo courtesy of Asia McArdell

Members of student organizations have been largely disappointed with UM-Dearborn’s new food service provider, Sodexo. As the Michigan Journal has previously reported, the transition to Sodexo has encountered obstacles before, such as the now-infamous shut –down Starbucks. Of course, campus has seen improvements as well; throughout fall 2013, Sodexo has provided students with an expanded set of options from which to choose when grabbing a quick bite to eat in the University Center. However, Sodexo doesn’t just provide students’ daily fare—it is also the sole catering source for student organizations.

As many leaders of student organizations know, it’s important to have food and drink at campus events—not only does it make any event more enjoyable, but it also helps increase attendance. We asked leaders of several student organizations for their feedback after their first semester working with Sodexo catering.

“It seems more expensive and more difficult to work with,” said Julia Cuneo, junior and member of Voice for Choice and Women in Learning and Leadership. “I’ve had multiple difficulties with groups having their orders mixed up or canceled or not followed through on.” Cuneo also expressed concern, about Sodexo’s controversial involvements in Michigan prison programs, and major scandals: The company was accused of overcharging New York schools in 2010 and paid $20 million to settle the claims, and in 2007, Sodexo chicken contaminated with Listeria bacteria was recalled from the dining halls of the US Marine Corps.

On the local level, though, high prices seem to be the main concern for student organizations. Jason Schweder, senior, commended Sodexo’s food but cited high costs as an issue: “The food has been very good, but I think it is far too expensive,” he said. Schweder also detailed an incident in which his order for a Political Science Association event was never confirmed—he was not informed that Sodexo would be unable to fulfill the order until the day of the event, and had no choice but to make a last-minute off-campus order.

The change in pricing and menu options can be grasped by comparing the previous menu with the current one. The old “Grub 2 Go” menu included a $22 fruit bowl; Sodexo’s new “Shoestring Catering” features a $35 fruit platter. The price of a cheese and cracker tray has jumped from $19 to $35. While these may not seem like catastrophic changes, they can add up quickly for student organizations, which often run on a tight budget.

Notably, Sodexo’s Shoestring Catering offers a slightly wider range of options to choose from. Student organizations now have more themed menu options, such as Italian and taco bars, and can order cake and ice cream. But does the expanded menu also come at a price? It carries with it the requirement that if students wish to cater from an off-campus location, they must first obtain permission from Sodexo.

“Long story short, the school accepted a contract that limited choices for students and increased prices,” said Schweder. ““I believe their logistic will improve. However, I believe the prices will remain far too high for students.”

Are these issues inevitable during a transition period? Or could complaints about high prices and questions of corporate ethics have bigger implications for the future of Sodexo at UM-Dearborn? If you’re a member of a student organization and you have feedback to offer on Sodexo, join the conversation on Twitter at @Michigan_Journal.