Chartwells takes over from Aramark at the U of R
For the second time in as many years, food services on the University of Regina’s Wascana campus are changing, leaving students wondering whether or not services will improve. But a lack of satisfaction meant changes were necessary in the first place, and the U of R administration is hoping that Chartwells is the company to make sure that the changes are for the better.
People who have spent some time on campus like Paul Felix, a fourth-year environmental engineering student, know first hand about the food-service quality.
“[It was] fairly poor, I’d say,” he said. “I heard of better prices at other campuses and on this one there are some fairly good deals, but for the most part prices are very high.”
Felix added the high prices weren’t compatible with students’ socio-economic status.
Because student budgets are typically stretched thin – a 2010 report from the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations’ Canadian Student Survey pegged median income from all sources for Canadian students at about $10,500 – high costs for meals on campus could represent a significant strain on the average U of R student’s wallet.
Judy Amundson, director of student affairs operations at the U of R, acknowledged food services have been a problem on campus and emphasised that student concerns were the reason for the change. As of June 1, 2011, Chartwells took over as the University of Regina’s food services provider.
“The contract was over, so it was time for the university to go out and look at other providers to see what they were offering,” she said.
Chartwells, headquartered on Toronto, Ont., is a company of comparable size to the former food services provider, Aramark, and is already offered at other campuses around the country such as the University of Calgary, Simon Fraser University, and Humber College.
Amundson said the U of R’s administration and its board of governors were impressed with Chartwells’ proposal.
“We liked the concepts better, we liked their focus on campus and we liked their hours of operations,” she said. “That was the whole reason for the change.”
Amundson says that Chartwells operations will be open “at least until 10 p.m., if not 11 p m.”. And while burgers and pizza will remain on the menu in Riddell Centre, Chartwells plans to make major changes around campus. The company is currently converting the former Lab Cafe into a Quiznos, a self-serve Tim Hortons, and Sizzling Salads, a stir-fry eatery. These changes are to help relieve some of the long lines from the Riddell Centre, specifically the Tim Horton’s, which Amundson said received complaints in the past.
Other changes to the Lab Cafe will include new seating and TVs.
On the other side of campus, the North Residence convenience store is also undergoing renovations.
Though Riddell Centre’s menu hasn’t changed substantially, Chartwells is promising that the changes in service won’t be merely cosmetic. Topio’s has become 2Mato, which will offer a fuller selection of pasta; Chopsticks is now Global Village and will offer a variety of food from different cultures; and Burger Studio has been rebranded as BYOB (Build Your Own Burger) and now offers added food selections such as a grilled cheese sandwich.
Linna Bie, a member of the residence food committee, said food selection was a big part of the problem for students residing on campus. She added that many students who live on residence are international students and many of them felt that the international food that used to be served on campus wasn’t the right type of food and “didn’t taste good at all.”
She would like to see the food services offer dishes from other cultures such as Nigerian food and higher-quality Asian food.
Bie also felt that the former food services would base their hours on the amount of traffic, which made it inconvenient for students living on campus.
“When not many students purchased stuff from there, they would close at 3:30 p.m. and they weren’t open in the summer,” she said.
Part of the Chartwells proposal did focus specifically on resident students. They will now be offering a wider selection of frozen foods that can easily be heated up. Amundson mentioned items like cabbage rolls and frozen lasagna.
Aramark, which is still the food provider on many other campuses across the country, was contracted by the university for the last 18 years. Amundson said that, while the university had a good working partnership with Aramark, she is excited for the changes Chartwells will bring.
To fight the rising costs of food on campus, some universities have student-run cafes. Student union-run facilities are usually lower in price since they are mainly viewed as a service.
Carleton University in Ottawa has a student union-run cafe called Rooster’s Coffeehouse, which serves breakfast, wraps, and sandwiches, along with coffee, at low prices. It is hugely popular and provides a great environment for students to socialize.
While Amundson never acknowledged any future plans of organizing something similar, she did say the university does have some food services such as the Lazy Owl, Henderson and All Souped Up, which are either run by the student union or are independent and rent space from the student union.
Some students were optimistic about the planned changes.
Tamara, a fourth-year social work student, is happy about the increased number of places to buy food
”It makes a lot more sense,” she said. “More Tim Hortons is always a good thing”.
“I think that would be good for sure,” Felix said. “You can’t complain about having more food around.”
Although there are new services on campus, students are disadvantaged while waiting for the new facilities to be built. Amundson does blame the turnaround of having a new contract to be the reason why food services are not ready in time: “We believe that in September, everything will be open.”
After the U of R granted Chartwells the food services contract, there was planning and concept designs that had to be approved by the university. Once those were done, Chartwells had to apply for the second Tim Hortons franchise, which took a couple of months to get approved. Amundson thinks that with a little more time, everything could have been ready in time.
She did, however, state in a positive tone that Chartwells will be offering discounts and re-opening specials so students would be able to benefit from the inconvenience.
Meal plans are also to be different this year. After buying a $500 plan, Chartwells are to add a $40 bonus on top of that.
Amundson said it’s like a bonus for purchasing the plan. Plans won’t just be offered to the U of R residences either: “They are very receptive in working with the Luther and Campion students as well.”
She believes these initiatives are working, since sales of meal plans are higher than they have been in recent years.
Connor Waldbauer, a first-year business student, agrees.
“I haven’t had a chance to eat there yet, but I see there are some long lineups, so it must be a good place to eat,” he said.
So, as students will have to bear with the changes once again this year, Amundson is convinced it is the right thing to do to ensure long-term satisfaction.
“I think we are going to be successful with them,” she said.,adding while we are in a new era for food services on campus, the student-focused food services will benefit anybody looking to take a break from classes and catch a bite to eat.