Sodexo catering contract irks organizations

Despite pleas from student organizations across campus, the University has granted Sodexo an exclusive contract to cater all of the events that will take place in West Hall – the newest residence hall on the Mount Vernon Campus – a University spokeswoman confirmed this month.

Sodexo currently has an exclusive catering contract in the Marvin Center, and many student orgs have complained that it limits food selection due to both financial constraints as well as Sodexo’s limited menu when hosting events in the building.

When the University announced that West Hall – formerly Pelham Hall – would include both student space and an eatery, student groups were hopeful the space would allow them to bring their own food into the building.

After learning of the contract Sodexo received in West Hall, many student leaders, especially those from multicultural organizations – who often seek to bring in authentic cuisine from their respective cultures to their events – said it is unfortunate that they will have to have the same battle over catering in the newly opened space.

“Allowing student organizations to provide from their choices of restaurants or other food providers allows for more freedom and authenticity when hosting and organizing an event,” said Shaun Vaid, program director for the Indian Student Association. “Our primary goal is to educate the community about other cultures. Food plays a major part in providing a hands-on experience when learning about such cultures.”

Faisal Rahimi, president of the Afghan Student Association, said although Sodexo provides Asian, Latin, Indian and Persian food options, the company lacks Afghan-inspired entrees, which becomes an obstacle for his student group when planning events.

“We would like to serve traditional Afghan cuisine at our events, but we can’t,” Rahimi said. “Certain international student orgs are limited.”

Aniket Pingley, a member of Hindu YUVA, said she understands the University’s financial considerations and its responsibility to protect students from potential food poisoning as legitimate reasons to sign an exclusive contract with Sodexo. However, she said that tradition and quality should not take a backseat to those issues.

“Sharing self-cooked food, to me, is a better way of bonding within a group since everybody appreciates each other’s effort,” Pingley said.

Some student organizations said they would support a non-binding contract with Sodexo, which would allow them to bring home-cooked food or to order from another caterer if desired.

“This will create competition and allow Sodexo to compete directly with local eateries,” Rahimi said. “This will allow Sodexo to also upgrade their food since it is terrible.”

Student Association President Jason Lifton, however, said he saw Sodexo’s facilities in West Hall, and he is “optimistic about the food quality” after seeing the space they have to cook in.

“If we see that it’s not at the level we feel it should be, then we certainly will continue to fight for better dining options,” Lifton said.

Ben Leighton, chair of the Dining Services Commission – a student-run commission that seeks to better the dining experience on GW’s campuses – defended Sodexo’s food quality, saying it would improve if students ask for it.

“I would like to stress that improving the quality of the food relies heavily on comments by students and faculty who consume it,” he said.

Leighton added that the University will accommodate student organizations that wish to serve more uncommon meals.

“With enough notice, Sodexo is willing to make any type of food, even if it’s not on one of the menus,” he said. He also disputed complaints about the quality of Sodexo’s food, which has been a topic of discussion in recent years.

“The quality is as good, if not better, than any of the other services in the area. And that goes for price too,” Leighton said.

But Rahimi has another idea to improve the catering situation.

“Allow Pelham Hall to be [a] free-zone,” he said. “Students should be able to bring in whatever they want.”

Aside from the exclusive catering contract in the building, West Hall will also have a food court for students that will accept both J Street dining dollars or Colonial Cash, and will sell both grab-and-go items and weighted entrees.

West Hall will serve as the primary eatery on the Mount Vernon Campus. The Ames Dining Room is currently closed for renovations. u

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