Following a two-year process that started with a review of existing dining data, a selection committee of students, faculty heads of house, and staff from the Division of Student Life (DSL) has selected Compass Group and its subsidiaries Bon Appétit and Restaurant Associates to take on the new, expanded contract for food and dining at MIT, which starts on July 1.
“Of the three companies that submitted bids, Compass presented the best program concepts and fulfilled key requirements related to program management, social responsibility, and sustainability,” said Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson in an April 19 email to students announcing the selection. “One addition to this contract is that Compass will install new management at MIT. And at the committee’s recommendation, the team from Compass will undergo operations reviews each quarter as well as a complete program review every other year, based on key performance indicators, to ensure that our campus has a food program of outstanding quality.”
Selecting the right partner
The three companies that submitted bids — Compass, Aramark, and Sodexo — were graded by the committee on a number of criteria, including a commitment to a continuous improvement plan, the ability to deliver innovative programs, services, and technology, and the strength of their sustainability program. Across those criteria, Compass scored top marks and impressed the committee with their understanding of MIT’s needs and values. “Their proposal was filled with a bunch of really exciting changes that will allow students to be getting the dining experience they deserve,” says junior Alexa Martin, vice president of the Undergraduate Association and a member of the selection committee.
In addition to reading submittals and meeting the prospective vendors, committee members also visited operations at other schools. The facilities managed by Compass consistently came out on top. “Their food quality at other schools, both in retail and house dining, was generally a notch above the other prospective vendors’ operations,” says senior Joseph Murphy, Dormcon’s dining co-chair and a selection committee member.
“The selection process was challenging, but informative,” says Elaine Smart, regional vice president for Bon Appétit on behalf of Compass. “We are excited to work with students, community members, and MIT Dining to implement significant retail and residential dining enhancements that will make MIT’s program a best-in-class operation.”
Coordinating the process over the last two years was Peter Cummings, executive director for administration in DSL. “Starting way back in the winter of 2016, the students, faculty, and staff who have worked on this project have been committed to achieving the best outcome for house dining, retail dining, and catering,” he says. “Compass and its subsidiaries will deliver great food, great service, and a great customer experience in all of those areas, with new management and quality control processes to sustain those deliverables throughout the contract.”
New house dining cuisines and Rebecca’s in Walker Memorial
Students returning to campus in the fall will see changes right away. “Compass proposed some great new cuisines for house dining, like smoked barbecue, Mongolian grill and stir fry, and hearth-style flatbreads,” says Mark Hayes, director of dining in DSL. “Meal plan holders will also have more grab-n-go breakfast options, performance bowls, and enhanced late-night dining options.”
Murphy hopes the house dining updates result in a greater sense of community in residence halls. “Generally speaking, good food brings people together,” he says. “Our whole house dining structure was designed around the premise of community building within each house, so that will always be high on my list of priorities.”
One place that will not change, however, is Rebecca’s Café located in Pritchett Lounge on the second floor of Walker Memorial (Building 50). With recent alterations to its hours (now 3-11 p.m., Monday through Friday), new furniture, and plans for more programming in the café, staff from Dining and the Campus Activities Complex have heard positive feedback.
Food insecurity and the low-cost grocery store
In her email to students, Nelson observed that Compass would be “a willing partner in making MIT a food-secure community.” Prospective vendors’ support for this effort was a key consideration in the selection process. Since the fall, Bon Appétit has worked with students and DSL to launch the meals donation program SwipeShare, and will be a helpful partner in the proposed low-cost grocery store that Nelson and Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart aim to open this fall.
Compass will help to obtain products for the store, and will help to guide its launch. The company has operated similar stores and pantries at other schools, and their expertise in this area will inform students and DSL as they plan aspects of the store together.
Dining Dollars and Lobdell
Dining Dollars are a new feature of all 2018-19 dining plans. Students can use Dining Dollars at retail locations across campus, and DSL is working with restaurants and grocery stores off-campus to expand the number of places that will accept Dining Dollars. “I think Dining Dollars will give students the flexibility they need,” Martin says. “For example, a student who has class in Stata and doesn't have time to walk all the way back to Maseeh for lunch will have the option to get food where they are and still use their meal plan.” According to Hayes, retail dining locations across campus will take Dining Dollars starting in the fall, including Rebecca’s in Pritchett. “And we are working on adding more,” he says.
On the retail front, there will be some new concepts in existing locations, but major changes to Lobdell Food Court will start in the contract’s second year when Compass assumes management of the popular eating destination in the Stratton Student Center (Building W20). “We will start planning for Lobdell with Compass soon, and we will seek lots of input from students on options for the future of that space,” Hayes says.
“I am excited by how willing Compass Group is to work with students on designing Lobdell and ensuring the changes we make are truly addressing student wants and needs,” Martin adds. “I think there is large potential to make that area a really great place for students to have access to fresh and affordable food, as well as spend time with peers.”
The seven-year agreement includes options for three additional years based on performance. Work to plan the transition has started, but activity will seriously ramp up after the contract begins on July 1.
Hayes expects a flurry of activity as facilities are upgraded, new equipment is installed, and the new management from Compass get to know MIT and its dining landscape first-hand. “By the time students start returning in August,” he says, “I expect things will look different in the dining halls and at a number of retail locations across campus.”