DIGGING INTO SODEXO: Food provider competes with West Side to meet student needs

Shannon Hall

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With long lines during lunch and a person almost always at one of the food options on campus, it’s no secret college students love to eat. The Shield dove into two of the common complaints about Sodexo it has heard the most over the past few years.

Hours

Freshman Spanish education major Corinne Gentry lives on campus, and has problems getting dinner on the weekend.

Both she and her roommate didn’t have cars last semester, and with The Loft closing at 6:30 p.m., there were few options for them.

The Loft is the only food option open on Saturday on main campus. It’s also the latest that stays open on Friday – until 7 p.m., which is when Gentry  usually eats.

Her only option last semester was to take the METS bus. But it doesn’t run on the weekends.

She said she could have “bummed” people for rides.

“But I don’t want to ask people to do that,” she said.

The Eagle Express Convenience Store (C-Store) is open, but for those living in the residence halls, it can be a walk to grab dinner.

Gentry, who has a car on campus now, usually buys food that she can make in her room or goes out to fast food places on the weekend.

“I understand that we’re a commuter school, but there are still people who live on campus,” she said.

Sodexo General Manager Chris Briggs said Sodexo can’t afford to stay open when classes aren’t mandatory.

“On Assessment Day, we only had about 1,000 transactions, but on a normal day we have about 5,000-6,000,” Briggs said.

He said if there’s a Thursday with no classes, the following Friday is a slow day, too.

Briggs wants people to think of Sodexo as a regular restaurant.

“A regular restaurant has a steady customer base – they have the ups and downs, but their customers don’t get up and leave for the summer or during holiday breaks,” he said.

On April 18 – Good Friday – the university was closed, and all food options on campus were closed both Friday and Saturday.

“If the school is closed, we’re closed,” Briggs said.

But because of a lack of students, Briggs said Sodexo has never been open on the Saturday following Good Friday since he started in 1997.

“We have to have an X amount of customers – even on Sundays we’re slow,” Briggs said. “They still did one-third (of) the sales it normally does (on a Sunday). It all revolves around customer counts.”

Briggs said if he had a student who lived on campus without a car, he would suggest his son keep an eye on Food Service’s hours.

“If they weren’t open, I would have him stock up either from the C-Store or by taking the bus to Wal-Mart,” he said.

Sodexo has adjusted times to suit students’s needs.

“Our student board suggested us opening Starbucks an hour later and closing an hour later,” Briggs said. “And they were right.”

If more events happened on the weekend to bring students to campus, Briggs said he would “gladly” open more food services.

“I’ve been here on Friday and Saturday nights. It looks like a ghost town,” he said.

He said he doesn’t think if the food services were open more during the weekend that students would come to campus.

“I want to put (labor) in the right spot. … I don’t want to put labor on Saturday and can’t schedule more people during the week when we’re busy,” he said. “I want to be financially smart about it.”

Prices

Freshman English major Jacque Baysinger commutes to school and rarely eats on campus.

“I paid $10 for a chicken wrap with really small, dry meat,” Baysinger said. “Maybe I got a pop as well.”

Rebecca Robb, Sodexo’s operations manager, said Sodexo re-evaluates the prices each year.

“We try to only change prices in between the school year,” she said.

Robb said during the summer, they compare prices with food vendors comparable to what Sodexo has on campus.

“Burger King usually changes their prices frequently,” she said. “The market changes so much.”

After seeing how it changes, Sodexo prices the meals higher in the fall semester. But come spring semester, Sodexo’s Burger King is cheaper than the one a few miles away, she said.

As for the C-Store, Chris Briggs said students shouldn’t think of it as a grocery store.

“Some people are buying groceries there, and that’s fine, but we’re for convenience,” he said.

Briggs said to compare the prices of the C-Store to a gas station instead of a grocery store.

“Wal-Mart buys products in bulk, which are cheaper, and we are buying them at Wal-Mart prices,” Briggs said.

Gentry also thinks the C-Store is overpriced – especially the toiletries.

The Shield went to the Chuckles closest to campus to compare its prices to the C-Store.

Most of the items were cheaper at the C-Store. Cheese sticks cost 79 cents at Chuckles. At USI, students pay 69 cents, which doesn’t include sales tax if the students use their Eagle Access Cards. Bounty towels, Kraft ranch, Lunchables and Mac n’ Cheese are all cheaper at the C-Store as well.

Most toiletries are about $1 cheaper.

The snacks are where Sodexo has higher prices. Chex Mix costs $2.99 at the C-Store, but only $1.69 at Chuckles.

 

Fast Facts:

Study Day Hours

The Loft 4:30 – 8 p.m.

Burger King 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Sub Connection 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Starbucks 7 a.m. – 11 p.m.

C-Store 8 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.

 

Price check graphic

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