UK considering outside vendor for dining services



By Anyssa Roberts| @kykernel

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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.