Photos by Alex Neis
Students head to the Waves Cafe, Pepperdine’s largest and most popular food service location, for a bite to eat.
As Pepperdine approaches the expiration of their contract with food provider Sodexo, a request for proposal process seeks to find the best option for food service in the Waves Cafe.
While the search is conducted by university officials, the concerns and requests of the entire Pepperdine community will factor into the decision, Nicolle Taylor, vice president and chief business officer at Pepperdine, said. The Food Service Committee —comprised of a number of stakeholders who have a hand in food service — and Business Services conduct the search. In addition, students, faculty and staff can give feedback about dining services through the Dining Services Committee, Taylor said.
“I would like to see the new food partner lower prices, provide more vegan, vegetarian and allergen-free options and educate students about where their food comes from,” Religion Prof. Chris Doran, a full-time professor of 12 years and former member of the Dining Services Committee, said.
“We don’t do a good job of showing students where their food comes from at all, but that’s becoming far more common practice at other universities,” Doran said. “It’s a failed educational opportunity to explain to our students how the food they eat ends up on their plates.”
In addition to Sodexo, food services such as Aladdin, Aramark, Bon Appetit, Chartwells and Harvest Table are all candidates for the partnership. After reviewing each company’s proposal, the committees will select finalists by Nov. 22. These finalists will make final presentations and, after review from the board of directors, the committees will decide a winner by Dec. 11. After a period of contract negotiation, the contract will be finalized by Aug. 1, 2020.
“This feedback is incredibly helpful for us to discern what is most important for our community,” Taylor said. “We read and consider every comment made, and it contributes to our decision-making process.”
Students have the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns during this process. Over the month of October, students and groups such as the Food Recovery Network attended town halls and focus groups to make their points heard. Taylor said she encourages anyone else with comments to fill out the RFP Google form.
While the request for proposal does not necessarily mean that Pepperdine’s relationship with Sodexo has come to an end, Taylor said the process seeks to ensure that Pepperdine’s partner is the best on the market.
“The expiration of the contract is a good time to look at what the other vendor options in the market are,” Taylor said. “Because we’ve been with the same partner for so long, it’s also a good time to see if we are in line with other trends that are being pursued in the market. This is all done to ensure we secure the best food service for our campus.”
Pepperdine has been evaluating the operations of Dining Services for over a year. Taylor said the request for proposal comes at the end of an extensive look into the positives and negatives of food service at Pepperdine.
“This has been a long process that started a number of years ago when we began to do a strategic review of our dining services on campus,” Taylor said.
The process was started with a very well-respected consultant, Susan Wilke, in conjunction with food services and Pepperdine’s design and construction teams.
Nature’s Edge offers snack and beverage options as well as meals to go.
Candidates for the new contract will need to demonstrate their ability to meet Pepperdine’s standards, which include quality, cost, sustainability, variety and customer service, Taylor said. After visiting a number of other college campuses, Taylor said she is confident that Pepperdine can implement some creative changes to improve the experience of eating at Pepperdine.
“Santa Clara University has great food displays, nutritional options and information, a comprehensive salad bar, and a lot of variety,” Taylor said. “They have also incorporated technology into their ordering systems to make the process more efficient.”
Taylor said Santa Clara University also has a lot more back-of-house space to work with, and that Pepperdine’s Waves Cafe is more limited by space constraints.
Grace Palmer, senior and president of Pepperdine’s Food Recovery Network chapter, said she is concerned with the food that doesn’t end up on student’s plates. Palmer said Sodexo has not always empowered the Food Recovery Network, which works to eliminate food waste and address food insecurity on campus.
“Early on, when we started the chapter on campus, we would ask to pick up leftover food, and we would get responses [from Sodexo] like, ‘We don’t have any leftover food’ or, ‘We are so efficient that we don’t produce food waste’ which is just not true,” Palmer said.
This response is uncharacteristic of Sodexo’s mission statement, which prioritizes issues of food waste reduction.
“We’ve committed to eliminate food waste by 2025 and nearly all our site managers, chefs and kitchen staff have implemented initiatives to cut waste,” according to Sodexo.com.
Palmer said the Food Recovery Network non-profit was actually an initiative that Sodexo helped start in 2013.
“In the past few months, our relationship with Sodexo has really improved, and they have been much more willing and excited to work with us,” Palmer said. “This change was due to a change in leadership of Sodexo officials at Waves Cafe.”
While the Food Recovery Network picks up leftovers from catered events and Starbucks, they are still not allowed to pick up food wasted in the Waves Cafe, where a majority of the waste comes from.
Palmer said in a new food partner, or in a revised contract with Sodexo, she would like to see an organization that is willing to partner with the Food Recovery Network directly. Ideally, Palmer said, they would allow them to pick up leftovers from the main dining hall and repurpose the food to address the needs of students facing food insecurity on our campus.
“Nicolle [Taylor] has been a great friend to the Food Recovery Network, and she believes in incorporating our mission into the next phase of food service at Pepperdine,” Palmer said.
One part of Pepperdine’s dining system which is not expected to change anytime soon is the meal plan system. Although some students have criticized the current points system, Taylor said the university does not plan on changing the system.
In addition to meal options from the Flat Top and the Grill, the Waves Cafe also offers hand crafted sandwiches, a salad bar and vegan options.
Regardless, Taylor said she plans to provide students with more informational tools to understand why meal points work the way they do and where students’ dollars are going. She said she hopes that improved quality of food and service will encourage students to use their full meal plan as opposed to eating off campus.
All of the candidates have the capacity to partner with franchises like Starbucks and have the potential to introduce new-branded concepts to the campus, Taylor said. While this could be an exciting new addition to Pepperdine’s food options, Taylor said Pepperdine will avoid introducing too many branded locations.
“I think students would enjoy having brands they recognize on campus,” Taylor said. “But we want to avoid looking like an airport food court and still include nutritious home cooked options.”
Contact Alex Neis: firstname.lastname@example.org