Sodexo has been ousted from its position as Stony Brook’s food provider after a deluge of complaints about food quality, variety and pricing last year. Its replacement, CulinArt, has been met with a great deal of fanfare by many of my peers, with Student Voice on Campus Dining (SVCD) stating that students are more satisfied with the quality and variety of the food provided. So, dining problem solved, right? Not quite.
The changes CulinArt has made to dining on campus have provided a host of other problems students, including myself, are complaining about. For instance, the decision to convert Roth Cafe from a dine-in location into an entirely retail option has caused logistical issues.
The loss of an additional dine-in location on campus forces Roth and Tabler residents with meal swipes to trek all the way to West Side Dining or East Side Dining to utilize those swipes. This is exacerbated by the fact that all incoming freshmen and transfer students on campus are required to have a meal plan with unlimited swipes and a fairly limited supply of Dining Dollars to use at retail locations. This has caused lines at dine-in locations to swell during peak hours like the morning breakfast rush and lunch.
The meal exchange system at Roth could also be improved. To compensate for not being allowed to use meal swipes at Roth Cafe, Tabler and residents are able to use a swipe to purchase one retail meal at Roth Cafe per day. While this is a fair trade, the meal exchange is only valid for specific meal combinations. For instance, one exchange dinner at the Tuscan Bistro consists of one standard entree, two sides and a fountain drink. Ordering anything else on top of that is an additional charge. Essentially, meal exchange users are only given access to a limited menu unless they are willing to fork over extra cash for more options, which is preposterous given that one of the goals of switching to CulinArt was to answer calls for greater food variety.
Despite complaints, CulinArt has provided students with new dining options like Bagel Express and Hershey’s Ice Cream. Students appreciate these changes, but that does not mean everyone is happy. The proclamations of improved food quality are undercut by complaints of a lack of consistency. This inconsistency is seen most at West Side Dining, which has been in a decline since it was transformed into a dine-in location last year.
Commuter meal plans are also lacking. Commuters are forced to pay for more Dining Dollars because they are only offered smaller plans with a higher cost per Dollar. Additionally they are not allowed to purchase residential meal plans which provide more Dining Dollars at bulk rates.
It is impossible to address every single issue or even mention them all in a single article, but it is still clear that CulinArt’s current options still have room for improvement. As the saying goes, “the customer is always right.” If CulinArt wants to keep its lucrative contract with Stony Brook, the company better start brainstorming how to address these issues to keep us students happy once the initial novelty of its arrival wears off.
Welcome to Stony Brook, the graveyard for foodservice providers for 60 years and counting. It has been the rare company indeed to last more than a couple of years at Stony Brook. Every time a company decides to leave (often amidst numerous complains, mostly well deserved), replacements come to campus to do their dog-and-pony show for the selection committee. A provider is selected, makes major changes, and the cycle begins again. The university’s reputation has always been as impossible (for good reason). Heck, my first semester in Fall 1971, no foodservice provider was on campus because none had responded to the RFP. Thus began the need to allow students to cook in their dorm rooms, which led to a shrunken market for foodservice providers. Big companies. Small companies. Many have tried and all have failed.
Unlike many schools existing in environments isolated from large urban centers, much of Stony Brook’s resident population often flees to the City on weekends. (I remember one roommate I never saw from Friday afternoon until late Sunday night—every weekend). If a company can’t make much money on weekends, it eats into its potential profits, its ability to enable positive change, and ultimately its decision to run as fast as possible—fleeing in sheer frustration.
Some things just never change. But gee, those foodservice dog-and-pony shows were fun!