Students participated in focus-group sessions this week as part of an external evaluation of on-campus dining options and the meal plan structure in light of the upcoming expiration of the contract between the university and Aramark, Georgetown’s current auxiliary services partner, later this year.
The sessions, run by the food service consulting firm Envision Strategies, took place Sept. 15 to 17. Organized by class year, the focus groups included 12 students both with and without dining plans.
Students were invited to sign up for the sessions in a university-wide email sent Sept. 12.
In the email, Associate Vice President of Auxiliary Business Services Joelle Wiese wrote that Envision Strategies will develop a new dining master plan to ensure that Georgetown selects a food service provider that best fits the campus.
“The purpose of this engagement is to evaluate our current dining program, the meal plan structure and the overall approach to all dining on campus,” Wiese wrote.
Ari Goldstein (COL ’18), a member of the Georgetown University Student Association Dining Committee who attended one of the focus groups, said that the sessions consisted of hour-long discussions, touching on a variety of topics including limited accessibility, affordability and desirability of existing meal plan options, as well as problems with food quality, hours and management at Leo’s and other on-campus dining locations.
“On a day-to-day level, there’s a lot to be done to improve the Georgetown dining experience, [including] offering higher quality food at Leo’s [and] opening up Grab ’n Go on the weekends.” Goldstein said. “At the Auxiliary Services level, there needs to be much wider and more serious conversations about how to improve our meal plan system.”
Jackson Shain (COL ’18), who also took part in a focus group, said that while the Envision representative did not discuss any concrete plans for the future of Georgetown’s dining program, students were asked a number of questions concerning a new dining hall, their average meal at Leo’s and the most desirable changes to meal plan options.
“One thing that was pretty common was asking for better quality food at Leo’s, especially fresher fruits and vegetables,” Shain wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I definitely think being able to use meal swipes at more places would be awesome.”
With the information gathered at the focus groups, Envision Strategies will use a wide range of methods to analyze Georgetown’s current dining arrangement, including comparing it with peer institutions, engaging students and administrators through focus groups and surveys, observing operations and analyzing the business.
Wiese said that the consultants at Envision Strategies will provide helpful information for Georgetown regarding food services in colleges across the country.
“Food on college campuses has changed quite a bit over the years,” Wiese wrote in an email to The Hoya. “With their level of knowledge of college food service, Envision Strategies will help us develop a strategy and vision.”
According to Wiese, the university conducted a request for proposal process before determining that Envision was the best fit for its interests.
“With all of the changes on campus, the master plan and in the college food industry, this is an excellent opportunity to engage with industry professionals on food and dining here at Georgetown,” Wiese wrote.
Georgetown University Student Association Secretary of Auxiliary Services Nicolette Moore (SFS ’17), who also participated in the focus group, said that the objective of the focus groups was to determine the best options for Georgetown going forward.
“Georgetown students have been frustrated with dining on campus for a long time,” Moore said. “That is no secret. It has become clear that the issue with dining on campus is not simple. It’s not just about Leo’s or Hoya Court or any one component of dining.”
Moore also said that students should become more involved in discussions about the dining program at Georgetown, citing opportunities for students to participate in the biweekly GUSA Dining Committee.
“The idea is getting as many voices and opinions as possible,” Moore said. “GUSA has been heavily involved in these efforts to improve campus dining. … We are finally having serious discussions about how dining fits into master planning.”
Although the university’s contract with Aramark is soon due for renewal, both Moore and Goldstein said that the focus group did not explicitly discuss whether the university should continue using Aramark’s services.
“Clearly students aren’t satisfied with Aramark, so I’m glad the university is seriously considering other options,” Goldstein said. “We’ll have to wait out the bidding process to determine whether Aramark can deliver improvements.”
Adam Shinbrot (COL ’18), a member of the GUSA Dining Committee who did not attend the focus group, said that he would support the university if it chose to switch to another provider.
“This would be contingent on many other factors including price and the services the new company intends to offer Hoyas,” Shinbrot said. “However, given Aramark’s poor track record, I don’t anticipate finding a comparable or better company as a real problem.”