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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

University overhauls food services

St. John’s University awarded Sodexho USA its dining services contract on June 3, officially replacing Aramark. The five-year deal will pay Sodexho, the leading food service provider in North America, a portion of the estimated $11 million in food revenue generated over St. John’s campuses in Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan and Oakdale. The agreement also includes renovation plans for the four campuses that will take place over the next five years.


Sodexho was one of three companies, which included Chartwells and Culinart, that St. John’s entertained contract bids from after sending them a request for a proposal. Sodexho won the contract because of the speed with which they could begin facilitating the campus, their resources, and their commitment to a high level of service.”We were looking for a company that had the resources, that had the expertise and had managed campuses our size before,” St. John’s Assistant Vice President and Associate Treasurer, Anne Marie Schettini-Lynch, said.
“We focused on student satisfaction, what programs they were going to put in place, how were they going to transform the university as it has been transformed over the years. We identified Sodexho as the best.”
Sodexho USA is part of the Sodexho Alliance, which also has firms in Canada and Mexico. With $6 billion in annual sales in the USA and Canada, Sodexho also offers options for house keeping, plant operations and maintenance and laundry services.
The company will take over for Aramark, whose contract St. John’s cancelled in March because of student dissatisfaction with the company, according to Schettini-Lynch. Aramark, which had served the St. John’s community for over 30 years, was replaced by the University in 90 days.”
There were some improvements and some changes, but the students still weren’t happy,” Schettini-Lynch said of Aramark. “In the Residence Halls you go in one day and there is ketchup on the wall. We shouldn’t have to point that out. Number two, it should not be there the next day.”
Sodexho, which also provides food services for retirement centers and the Marine Corps, will aid the University in making both significant and continual changes to the St. John’s dining experience. These include improved service, the use of the Storm Center, and Taffner Field House as additional food locations, new food items, new meal plan options, continual hours at Montgoris Dining Hall and a campus dietician. Sodexho will also sponsor an international chef program beginning in the fall that will bring a chef from another country to campus to cook for, and in front of, the students.
“The initial changes are going to be primarily visual,” said Ken Waldhof, St. John’s Executive Director of the Office of Auxiliary Services. “You are going to walk into a faculty and say ‘gee it looks different’ or it looks fresher or it looks cleaner. Then you will see that there are different products, there are more items available.”
In September, students will not see any changes in the major food options such as Burger King, Quiznos, and Taco Bell, because St. John’s and Sodexho want to gain a large amount of student input as to what they want to eat, says Waldhof.
“We want to engage the students in a process beginning in September to really involve them and bring in groups of students and say ‘hey, what do we like,'” Schettini-Lynch said. “‘Do we like Burger King and [do] we want Burger King or do we want Wendy’s?'”
One thing Sodexho brings along with it is an $80 million class-action lawsuit settlement that will be up for approval by the courts on August 10, 2005. According to the California Aggie, the suit was filed by 10 African American managers against Sodexho Marriot Services Inc. The suit claimed that 3,400 African American employees were discriminated against by being denied promotion opportunities.
“That is a big lawsuit but it was with Marriot not Sodexho and they have really extensive diversity programs in place and they have actually won a significant amount of awards over the last several years for their diversity programs,” Schettini-Lynch said.
According to the company’s Annual Diversity and Inclusion Report for 2004 it has been named a Top 50 Company for Diversity by DiversityInc Magazine, named one of the 50 Greatest Companies that Attract, Nurture and Retain African American Professionals by Savoy Professional Magazine and named one of the 50 Best Companies for Latins by Latina Style Magazine in 2003 and 2002.
In addition, in 2003 a wrongful death suit was filed against Sodexho, America by the family of Alice McWalter. McWalter, 85, died from E. coli bacteria from raw spinach served at The Sequoias retirement community in Portola Valley, Calif. according to The Almanac. Also, according to a press release on the website of the law firm Marler Clark, a second suit was filed in Sept. 2004 by Sara Ish, who was one of the 13 residents who tested positive for E. coli and one of seven who were hospitalized during the outbreak.
Along with the addition of Sodexho as the University’s food service provider St. John’s will add two new meal plan options for students. Each plan will cost students an additional $50 per semester. The Gold Plan allows a student unlimited meal swipes between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and closing and has $200 declining balance per semester. The Platinum Plan allows students unlimited meal swipes from opening to closing and has $50 declining balance per semester.
“You can go in and out 50 times, if you just want a coffee or grab a roll,” Schettini-Lynch said.
Students will no longer have to leave Montgoris for a half hour twice a day. Students were once required to leave between meals so that they could not use one meal swipe for breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner. The new plans allow students to combine meals. Three guest swipes per semester will also be added to meal plans at no extra cost.