Campus dining changes a check mark for student-led efforts

Media Credit: Camille Ramasastry | Hatchet Photographer

Starting in the fall, students will not have to spend a fixed amount of money at on-campus venues like J Street. The switch to an open dining plan comes as Sodexo's contract is set to expire.

Syron, who resigned in January, said conversations with students convinced him there was no longer an appetite for a central dining space on Foggy Bottom.

“After talking to a couple dozen people, it’s pretty apparent no one is really wild about the dining hall. We’ve all had a sour taste in our mouth with J Street and Sodexo,” he said.

He said the new setup will be an “experiment,” but could benefit students by giving them more flexibility. In the past, students have said the options at J Street are limited and overpriced compared to those at other dining spots in the area.

Officials distributed a survey last spring to gauge what students wanted in a dining hall, asking questions like how much they spend on and off campus and how their dining habits on weekdays and weekends differ, although the results have not been released.

GW’s open dining plan will also bring a “living room” for students, part of SA President Andie Dowd’s plan to make the first floor of the Marvin Center more comfortable and inviting. Dowd has recommended that those changes include replacing the long tables near J Street with couches and more comfortable chairs.

District House, which will open this fall, will also house five dining vendors in its basement. Student leaders have in the past called for those vendors to be affordable options as they look to make life on campus more affordable.

These two major changes in dining options will significantly alter GW’s dining landscape for the first time since Whole Foods opened on I Street in 2011. At least three new options will be available, the largest slew of new eateries opening on campus at one time in recent history.

The new Sodexo
Students who reviewed the Restaurant Associates’ presentation said they were impressed with the company’s ability to use social media to market to college students.

In the announcement, the University said that with Restaurant Associates, it would look into creating an online platform where students could “search for partner restaurants based upon cuisine, location, menu options and pricing.” A University spokesman declined to release any additional details about the plan.

Residence Hall Association President Mike Massaroli said he was impressed by the company’s “deep roots” in the D.C. area.

Restaurant Associates already manages dining locations at landmark sites in the District including U.S. Senate office buildings, the Capitol Visitor Center, the Kennedy Center, the Newseum and five Smithsonian properties, according to its website.

The company also operates dining locations at Princeton and Harvard universities.

At Princeton’s Genomics Cafe, run by Restaurant Associates, students can get specialty sandwiches for $6.25 and salads for $6.45. At Harvard Business School, the company operates a food court, grille, bistro and sushi bar.

Massaroli said the company’s connections to high-profile sites and prestigious universities would be a boon to GW.

“I know this company is going to be a key part of the campus community going forward,” he said. “They have a real connection to this area.”

Dining staff
The staffers at J Street are employed by Sodexo and contracted through the University. Those employees will be contracted through Restaurant Associates, but with scale-backs at GW’s on-campus locations, the number of staff members could be reduced by as many as 10, according to a release.

Sodexo officials said in the initial announcement that they will work to place Sodexo employees laid off from GW to work at nearby locations.

The Department of Labor is investigating Restaurant Associates for allegedly incorrectly classifying workers at its U.S. Senate locations, putting those workers at a risk of being underpaid, The Washington Post reported this month.

The issue of dining employees has received attention from the Progressive Student Union, which started a petition calling for workers to be retained during the transition to Restaurant Associates. The petition has amassed more than 1,900 signatures. PSU members delivered the petition to administrators during a rally Friday afternoon.

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