By Kathleen Smith, Contributor
Recent controversy over a summer termination of Aramark employee Rick Enloe highlighted a difference between working “at” Furman and working “for” Furman to the student body. This distinction, particularly in dining, might undergo further changes this year as Furman opens up a bidding process for its food service provider contract.
Aramark is an external multinational corporation that holds a contract with Furman to provide food services at each dining location, from the DH and the PalaDen to concessions and catering. Although it operates on campus, all of Aramark’s employees are autonomous from the university.
Furman has worked with Aramark for 20 years to provide quality food service to students, faculty, staff and visitors. According to Food Service Director Adam Summer, this has been a positive working relationship.
“At its very core, it’s a partnership with the university to have a certain prestige with food services,” Summer said. “We come in with our expertise to fulfill that goal.”
This partnership might change in the coming years though, as Furman opened up the bidding process for other food service providers to compete for a contract negotiation throughout the year.
Becky Vuksta, the Director of Auxiliary Services and the Furman employee with the most contact with external contractors, explained why Furman has entered this process after sticking with the same food service provider for 20 years.
“That’s just not good business practice. We felt it was time to explore and go out to bid,” Vuksta explained. “It’s not that we’re unsatisfied [with Aramark], it’s just not good business practice.”
The rebidding process started in early April. An initial Request For Information (RFI) was issued to several companies during the summer and the search has since been narrowed down to four food service providers. The potential contractors are Aramark, Bon Appetit, Chartwells and Sodexo.
The four competing food service providers were issued Requests For Proposals (RFPs) from Furman, followed by an invitation to attend a site visit on campus Sept. 16. The corporations received information about what the school is looking for in terms of service and had the opportunity to ask questions during the visit. Each company is required to submit a proposal to Furman by the end of October.
A committee composed of students, faculty and staff will review each company’s proposal extensively and ask companies with impressive submissions to return to campus for an interview. After the interview process in January, the university will decide on the food service provider internally. The official contract announcement will be made July 1, the start of the 2016 fiscal year.
“Furman’s goal is to provide the best food service that’s out there, and if it’s not out there, we want to make it here,” Vuksta said.
Aramark has already implemented new initiatives to better serve students.
“What we do unique to Furman is our desire and passion to work with students,” Summer said. “We’re actively going out to gain feedback and act upon that feedback.”
Aramark visited the Student Diversity Council for the first time ever this year in addition to its more regular Student Council and Greek Council visits.
As far as concerns about Aramark staff treatment, students have been silent since the summer petition.
“At my level I haven’t heard anything from students about internal worker relations outside of the Mr. Rick situation in my short time back [as food service director],” Summer said.