Sodexo satisfies at GMU

Students at George Mason University are satisfied with the Sodexo-run dining services offered at their school, Mason dining officials say – a stark contrast to the oft-maligned dining options at GW, which is also run by Sodexo.

With a main dining hall that is less than two years old and flexible meal plans, few complaints are heard on the Mason campus about the dining program, said Alexander Romano, senior member of the school’s Dining Subcommittee.

“Nobody really complains about the dining program, it’s more suggestions for what they would like to see added or improved,” Romano said.

The Dining Subcommittee, the equivalent of GW’s Dining Services Commission, works closely with the administration and Sodexo to consider student concerns and improve the dining program.

In an interview earlier this month, newly elected GW Student Association President Jason Lifton discussed a recent trip he made with other SA representatives to Mason’s new dining hall.

“They use the same people at GMU for their dining services, but the food is great there, and students seem to really like it,” Lifton said. “There is no reason to get rid of Sodexo if we can get what we want, and get this to work on a GW system.”

The GW committee did a survey last year that found students were 50 percent satisfied with dining at GW.

Unlike GW’s contract with Sodexo – a 10-year, $11.2 million-binding agreement signed in 2006 – Mason recently signed a five-year contract with the company that is non-competitive. This means the school can have vendors like Subway that are not Sodexo-run.

Denise Ammaccapane, Sodexo’s resident district manager at George Mason, said the company oversees the program, but George Mason owns all of the equipment and facilities. Together with the subcommittee, Ammaccapane controls much of the dining program and the changes made to it.

“These guys are my eyes and ears. I can’t possibly see and hear everything, so they go out and listen to what the students want and see what’s going on,” she said. “It’s not up to me to make decisions. There’s a whole new generation here, and these changes affect them, not me.”

The focus of the Dining Subcommittee is to address student suggestions and requests. A bulletin board is permanently set up in GMU’s main dining hall, Southside, where students can post their comments on dining.

“We consider all questions, and respond to all questions. We write back with explanations of why something can or cannot happen,” Ammaccapane said. “Students may also post comments or complete a survey online. These are copied to all members of the Dining Subcommittee and receive a response within 24 hours.”

Mason student Allison Bowers said Sodexo often makes changes to the dining program that stem from student suggestions, and that dining at GMU is hardly complained about.

“It’s the everyday, little suggestions that students have that make a difference,” she said.

The Web site for GMU’s dining services lists the major changes students will see this semester. These include a new franchise of “Jazzman’s,” a Sodexo, café-style vendor; an extended menu for their sports bar, the Rat; extended hours for GMU’s Burrito Del Rey franchise; and the addition of a late-night dining option dubbed the “Pilot House.” All of these changes stemmed from student suggestions, Romano said.

The most notable change in recent years is the construction of Southside, the replacement for the university’s main dining hall. With six self-contained restaurants under one roof, the establishment claims to offer “extensive menus, high quality ingredients and seasonal produce” to students.

According to the GMU dining services Web site, the dining hall was “designed with the resident student in mind.” The entire establishment is run by Sodexo, but tailored to GMU student needs, Romano said.

The GW Student Association and Dining Services Committee work on dining issues at GW, often focusing on improvements to J Street.

While additions like a microwave, calorie information and organic food have been made, the committee has had difficulties making major improvements because of GW’s contract with Sodexo, which states that only Sodexo-run vendors are allowed to operate in J Street and requires freshmen and sophomores to spend at Sodexo-run venues.

Managing Director of Campus and Support Services Nancy Haaga did not return requests for comment about the current dining situation at GW or comparisons between GW and Mason. There is currently no chair of the GW Dining Services Committee.

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