UK considering outside vendor for dining services

Students wait in line for Subway during the lunch rush at the Student Center dining hall at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., on Friday, February 8, 2013. Photo by Eleanor Hasken| Staff

By Anyssa Roberts| @kykernel

UK is considering outsourcing its dining services to a third-party vendor to accommodate the growing number of students.

Last year a committee of administrators and staff was formed to conduct an analysis of dining options and decide upon the best plan.

Vendors will develop a proposal for the committee to consider and present to President Eli Capilouto for approval by April 30.

UK dining officials and the committee are working with Envision Strategies to construct a request for proposals and evaluate responses.

Envision Strategies, headquartered near Denver, is a consulting firm that specializes in strategic planning and consulting for restaurants, food services and retail enterprises.

“We must take it to the public first and speak with professionals about plans and the best plan of action for privatization,” said Bill Harris, UK’s director of purchasing.

UK dining is the highest revenue-generating sector in student affairs. Revenue generated from dining helps fund other services in the division. The projected 2013 revenue budget for Dining Services is about half of the $41 million budgeted for student affairs.

Over the past 10 years, Dining Services’ revenue has doubled. In 2002, the department’s gross revenue was close to $11.7 million. It was $23.7 million last year, according to documents provided by UK. Robert Mock, UK’s vice president for student affairs, said if the committee does not find a good plan for outsourcing it would consider keeping dining in-house.

UK has nearly 120 full-time dining employees, 125 part-time employees and about 470 student employees.

“From my experience with outsourcing, I know we try to keep jobs, if not increase jobs,” Mock said. “Students are not the only ones to be affected — staff jobs could be affected by outsourcing — but we will have to work that out with who we decide to work with.”

Regardless of what happens, “the students will not be without food,” Mock said. “We are trying to increase what UK dining already has because the number of beds is going up, but what would be the terms of (the decided plan) would depend on what the final recommended answer would be.”

Mock also said UK’s preference would be a vendor that would keep the tradition of using Kentucky Proud products. UK dining has been a supporter of the Kentucky Proud initiative since the 2007-08 school year. With a focus on local farmers, Kentucky Proud is an organization of food distributers and producers aimed at strengthening the local economy and keeping a sense of community within Kentucky.

“In relation to Kentucky Proud products, we would like to keep that relationship because we have had it for so many years, but no contract has been drawn with a vendor yet,” Mock said. “We will decide what is best for UK.”

Spending on Kentucky Proud products has increased yearly from $150,000 in 2007-08 to $800,000 in 2011-12, and the number is projected to be higher this year, Mock said. About 17,000 meals are served each day at UK, but not all of them use Kentucky Proud items because of what is typically a 30 percent price difference between those items and produce purchased from other vendors.

Pros and cons exist when purchasing from local farmers. Produce is needed year-round, not just in May through October, the Kentucky growing season.

Also, good agricultural practices must be followed according to USDA and GAP criteria, according to documents from UK dining. And farms must be inspected and the university needs guarantees of safe handling from farms to docks.

UK is not the first school to consider privatization of dining services. Other schools in the state and in the SEC have considered outsourcing as a dining option.

Western Kentucky University, Transylvania University and Texas A&M have outsourced their dining services. Outsourcing had a positive impact on revenue at WKU, said Gary Meszaros, assistant vice president of auxiliary services at WKU. WKU has been outsourced to Aramark since 1992, Meszaros said.

In the past 10 years, he said revenue has grown from $2.5 million to $18 million.

Why hasn’t there been a student forum about this?! Don’t students deserve a say in what goes in their body? What their tuition money buys? What if we don’t want to outsource? We have excellent Dining Services staff and it seems like an insult to the amazing work they do to say they are suddenly no longer capable of doing it.

Perhaps that third-party signing bonus was too sweet for the UK administration to pass up…

Outsourcing dining would be a huge detriment to the campus community.
* The food quality I’ve seen on campuses like WKU, EKU, or even here in town at Transy are sub-par.
* International students who can only work on campus will be out of jobs, and let’s face it, there are a lot of them currently in dining services.
* UK loses control of another service that we, the students, have to pay for. How much will room and board increase when the new company in control of housing sets it? How much will that increase when dining is outsourced?
* How does this effect the 120 full time employees the article mentions? They lose their UK benefits and must take on whatever the company offers.
* Generating half of Student Affairs budget? If they lose that money, who covers it? Or do we see a loss of SA departments like the Counseling Center, Residence Life, and Student Involvement?

I don’t understand the campus administrations fascination with outsourcing everything… Oh wait, Money.

Texas A&M was mentioned in the article and a quick google search shows that they got a $40Mil signing bonus for outsourcing(Dining and other parts of campus).

I know we have to make sacrifices in tough budget times, but do we need to sacrifice essential parts of student life and campus to do so?

Will we finally get rid of Chick-fil-A, so that the money I pay in tuition and fees doesn’t end up in the pockets of a company that works toward preventing same sex marriages?

Ok here we go again, “Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water!!!” Poor quality food, for high price paying UK students!!! More loss of jobs, and lower paying positions with Aramark. I am not suprised!!!