Like Housing, UK Dining could privatize

By Will Wright
wwright@kykernel.com

Dining at UK may soon be following the example of campus housing.

Dining services will be managed by a private company if the Dining Revitalization Committee finds a competitor more appealing than UK Dining Services.

The university released a Request For Proposal (RFP) Thursday that outlines what the university is looking for in the management of on-campus dining.

RFP responses will be received by Oct. 4, according to the Dining Revitalization website.

“From my perspective, I think UK Dining Services has been doing a great job … But I think the administration wants to, and really ought to, see what else is available,” said Lee Meyer, member of the Dining Revitalization Committee and the President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee.

The committee is composed of faculty and staff from different areas of the university, such as agriculture, health care and student affairs, according to the Dining Revitalization website.

Student Government President Roshan Palli is the only student on the 13-person committee.
The decision to release an RFP was influenced by the housing revitalization project and the increasing number of students living on campus, committee members said.

“With the student housing transformation program, eventually the resident dining will be demolished,” said Bill Harris, UK’s purchasing director. “So this was really an opportunity on how we were going to replace those.”

About $25-50 million will need to be spent on new campus dining facilities, like those that will replace Commons and Blazer, Harris said.

New residence halls will likely raise the number of students living on campus from the current number of about 5,000 students to more than 6,000 in the next few years, Harris said.

The committee will decide between Dining Services and the private competitors after the RFPs are sent in on Oct. 4, Meyer said.

“I’m not at all convinced that we’re going to outsource. I think UK Dining Services’ business plan is a very ambitious and competitive business plan,” Meyer said. “We’re facing a choice between goods. I think what we have now is very good. We might get something that’s better, but we won’t know until we see what the proposals are that come from the other companies.”

Outsourcing dining is not uncommon, Harris said.

Between 60 and 63 percent of higher education institutions outsource their dining, and out of the eight public universities in Kentucky, only Western Kentucky University and UK have yet to privatize, Harris said.

However, most of UK’s benchmark institutions, universities used by UK as standards to measure things like tuition, retention rates and faculty salary, have in-house dining services, according to the Dining Revitalization website.

Palli said student employment is especially important to him. All current full-time employees of Dining Services will continue to be employed and will receive the same salary and benefits as they do now, even if the decision is to privatize, according to the RFP.

How a competitor plans to use local products, including Kentucky Proud products, plays a big role in the committee’s decision, Palli said.

“A big part of that is that they continue to buy from local farmers,” Palli said. “I think that’s something to maintain, not just because we’re a land-grant mission, but because we’re a part of the Lexington community.”

All aspects of sustainability will be important in deciding who will control dining services, Meyer said.

“Will they buy from local farmers and other businesses? Will they integrate recycling, composting, minimizing waste, for example getting rid of Styrofoam containers?” he asked. “We’re on a good track now. How can we stay on that track and become more sustainable?”

The committee will look at how a company plans to provide healthy foods and keep dining affordable for students.

“I think it’s important that students are getting the most for their dollar,” Palli said.

The Dining Revitalization website states that UK will have a strong management oversight of dining services to ensure a private partner will continue to be committed to the employees, sustainability efforts and food quality. A termination clause in the RFP states that the director of purchasing may terminate the contract for non-performance.