Sodexo: The good, the bad and the ugly

Top right, Linda Laxson rings students up using her cash register in the GUC food court.

For student Amber Davenport, a senior accounting major, eating at Towers Cafeteria every day was a way of life when she began her college career at UNA.

“I ate there for two years, mostly just because of convenience, but I got tired of it,” she said. “Now, I do my own cooking.”

Davenport said Towers just didn’t have enough variety for her, causing her to become bored with the food choices.

“They serve turkey like five times a week,” Davenport said. “The GUC is a lot better than Towers, but still not a lot of variety. They just have the same thing.”

Kirsten Shaw, a senior majoring in social work, had an experience that was much different from Davenport’s.

“My first three years I ate there, and besides a couple incidents, it was really great,” Shaw said. “The only thing I can think of that needs improvement is dessert. The cakes can get dry, but I guess that happens when you’re cooking for so many people.”

In recent months, experiences like Shaw’s and Davenport’s have become popular subjects on social media sites Twitter and Facebook, with UNA students complaining about long lines, unsatisfactory service and cold food.

On UNA’s campus, all food is provided by Sodexo Dining Services, including Towers Cafeteria, World of Wings, GUC food court and Einstein Bros. Bagels. Since last semester, Sodexo has been trying to improve communication and provide better service to students, Sodexo officials said.

“We are listening to students, and right now we’re trying to provide a variety of options,” said Beth King, marketing manager for Sodexo. “Right now, we’re still trying to get in touch with them.”

King and Alan Kinkead, general manager of Sodexo at UNA, have looked at comments made by UNA students on Sodexo’s quality and responded to the remarks.

“The comments that trouble me are the ones that say food is cold,” Kinkead said. “I can tell you that we follow some very, very specific guidelines on everything. We take temperatures on all things.

“We have thousands, and that’s probably no jokes, of logs where we record temperatures on the coolers, the warming boxes and the food itself. Doesn’t mean that some things can’t cool off if they’ve sat there or the equipment’s not working, though.”

Kinkead also said that some products, like pizza, are difficult to keep warm and rarely stay hot, but food service workers try to reduce sitting time for pizza through batch cooking.

Both King and Kinkead said that a major focus for Sodexo is keeping the food safe for students and meeting hazardous analysis critical control points through the temperature logs to maintain safety.

“That’s what Sodexo really believes in,” King said. “We look out for the health of the students by making sure there are no contaminations in the food.”

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s database, both AFC Sushi and the general UNA Dining Services received a score of 92, while Towers received a 93 and World of Wings received a 96 during their latest inspections in January.

This means that all services were satisfactory under Alabama’s health guidelines, with a score of 8 being the lowest possible before a two-month inspection becomes mandatory.

For some students on campus, problems with Sodexo came directly from service at the GUC.

“It’s very crowded at lunch and it’s very expensive, but the food is very good,” said Hailey Killen, a sophomore at UNA. “If you’re hungry, though, you’ll pay for it.”

Long lines at lunch in the GUC and at Einstein’s for breakfast is something that affects students, though some students have found a way to work around it.

“Those people that stand at Einstein’s, I just don’t think I could do it,” said Marcus Anderson, a sophomore majoring in psychology. “Not necessarily a problem, I’m just going to come at a time where it’s not packed.”

While long lines may change a student’s schedule, Kinkead said not much could be done when food is made fresh like at Einstein’s or SubConnection.

“That’s the thing, if you want your food fresh and hot, you have to wait,” Kinkead said. “Again, we can work on timing. We can see when people are coming, make sure the right number of people on are shift and hope all the items are there.”

Though Killen said that expense is one of the biggest negatives about Sodexo, she did also say that some items like bagels at Einstein’s are not that high in terms of price.

“In terms of prices, I believe our prices on campus are competitive with anything else,” Kinkead said. “There seems to be an impression that food on campus should be cheaper than the same food anywhere else. Gosh, food prices are going up all the time.”

When comparing prices, sandwiches at SubConnection generally cost more than similar subs at Subway, with most 6-inch subs costing $4.19 and footlongs at $7.19, while most footlongs at Subway are $5-7.

A one-item lunch at Mein Bowl costs $5.49, four cents higher than a similar-sized meal at off-campus Wok n’ Roll, while a cheeseburger meal costs $4.19 at A&W Express compared to a two cheeseburger meal at off-campus McDonald’s which costs $4.39.

“The main thing is we don’t have a lot of selection,” said Andrew Ragan, a senior majoring in film and digital media production. “It would be awesome to have Taco Bell or some other Tex Mex restaurant.”

Though Sodexo does not have Tex Mex, King said that menu items at Towers will continue to vary, including different promotions like Mediterranean food.

King also said that Sodexo is trying to provide healthy options for students in Towers Cafeteria and the GUC. She encourages students who are vegetarian or vegan to let Sodexo know.

“If someone does want a vegan item, they can say, ‘Oh, I have a very restrictive diet’ and meet with our chef and operations manager there,” King said. “Please get in touch with us and like us on Facebook and Twitter. We really need to know what direction to go in sometimes.”