A student patiently waits for her plate at Waves Cafe during the 2016-2017 school year. The University was in the process of choosing a food provider for 2020-21 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so the postponed selection led Pepperdine to extend its contract with Sodexo through July 2022.
Pepperdine was in the midst of selecting a food provider for 2020-21 when COVID-19 hit, delaying the Request for Proposal process and causing the University to extend its contract with Sodexo through July 2022.
Pepperdine Dining Services selected three finalists in February 2020 based on the RFP process: Bon Appetit, Chartwells and Sodexo. The University will redo the final stages of the RFP process in the fall, with these three finalists submitting updated RFP responses with any pandemic-related changes, said Nicolle Taylor, vice president and chief business officer at Pepperdine.
“It’s an exciting time,” Taylor said. “We are very appreciative of all that Sodexo has done during this time, and we look forward to them and Chartwells and Bon Appetit participating in this process as we get to dream about what food will look like for the next decade at Pepperdine.”
RFP Process To Continue
The University decided to lengthen its contract with Sodexo during the spring of 2020 due to uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the extensive familiarity Sodexo has with the University, Taylor said.
Pepperdine extended Sodexo’s contract for two years to allow for extensive lead time to make decisions before committing to a lengthy contract, Taylor said. Since it was unknown how long COVID-19 would impact campus life and foodservice, they wanted to err on the side of caution when lengthening the contract.
“They are very knowledgeable about the campus and our needs and that seemed appropriate: to have a good knowledgeable partner solidified in a contract during this transition time,” Taylor said.
In the past, students criticized the lack of options, food quality and limited hours offered at Waves Cafe under the Sodexo contract.
The RFP process was nearly complete last spring, which is why the University decided to redo only a few elements and work with the then-selected finalists, Taylor said.
“This is one of those situations where these providers, of course, are going to have updated information about what their proposal will look like now, but they ostensibly are still cooking the same,” Taylor said. “Their own procedures, apart from what may have been changed by COVID, are the same.”
Taylor said Pepperdine will inform community members about dining changes and the continuation of the RFP process through a town hall or President’s Briefing in the fall. Dining Services will also initiate new requests for community feedback.
“We will have new students who may have not had an opportunity to comment, and they will have a short amount of experience — they may only be here for a month or so — but we will reopen that for all faculty, staff and students,” Taylor said.
New taste tests are unlikely, Taylor said, since food quality and type are likely unchanged by the pandemic, and student tastings occurred past February.
COVID-19 Forces Dining Changes
Dining Services made a number of adjustments to the dining experience for 2020-2021, such as only offering grab-and-go options and centralizing all dining through the Waves Cafe due to a reduced volume of students — with fewer than 100 people coming through daily, Taylor said.
Recently, the University initiated a soft rollout of GrubHub on campus, Taylor said. The mobile ordering system will allow students to order from any venue on campus using meal points and grab food from pick-up locations placed close to residence halls.
“We are trying to focus on minimizing lines [and] increasing the throughput so that people don’t have to wait a long time,” Taylor said. “We’re thinking through all those things to try to make sure that the [dining] experience is a good one, even if it looks a little bit different.”
COVID-19 regulations require individually packaged grab-and-go items — while these are effective for reducing potential virus spread, the packaging raises sustainability concerns. Taylor said Sodexo addresses these diverse needs by using compostable, reusable or recyclable packaging, cups and utensils when possible.
Pepperdine hopes to further reopen dining whenever allowed by LA County health regulations and has a multitude of different potential dining plans depending on allowances, both in the spring and next fall when more students are anticipated to return, Taylor said.
After Pepperdine completes the RFP process and selects a finalist, the selected food provider will take over in the summer of 2022.
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