“We need to make sure that, whichever vendor we choose, they are a good fit for the entire student community,” said Rich Berlin, the director of Campus Dining at MIT. “The students and housemasters helped us develop the request for proposals and are very engaged in every aspect of evaluating the potential vendors.” While staff from Dining Services and other MIT departments are involved in the search for financial and logistical reasons, the vendors are researched and evaluated by the students and housemasters in the selection committee.
The three vendors who responded to the request for proposals (RFP) are Aramark, Sodexo and Bon Appetit, all of whom have worked with MIT in the past.
The three-stage process includes a review of the proposals, interviews with each of the companies and site visits to other campus settings — both local and national — where the vendors operate. The site visits, which are currently underway, will showcase how the vendors operate in other urban university settings. During visits, members of the selection committee will look qualitatively at the presentation of food, cleanliness of facilities, freshness of food and interactions between vendor employees and the student community.
The selection committee is focusing on three major elements in their review of the vendors:
Relationship building: Does the vendor have the skills and approach necessary to effectively communicate and collaborate with the school and students? “A successful dining program is a two-way street defined by experimentation. It is therefore critical to ascertain how the vendor solicits feedback and engages the community in decision-making,” Berlin noted.
Execution: Can the vendor meet expectations in terms of quality, food choices and flexibility in meeting student requests? By speaking with vendor employees, conducting site visits, and talking with students at other schools, the committee hopes to get a true understanding of the way each vendor works.
Facilities: Are the facilities well-maintained, clean, orderly and likely to promote community building?
“At the end of a long day, students are stressed, tired and hungry. It would be nice for them to walk into a clean facility with food they enjoy and see a friendly face who knows their name and wants to interact with them. This is what we’re looking for,” Berlin said.
A decision is expected from the selection committee sometime in March, after site visits, interviews and full proposal reviews are complete. Once the new vendor is announced, students will have the opportunity to weigh in on possible dining choices, hours of service and other aspects of the meal service.