Swipe System to be Implemented

By Emily Singer

In an effort to cut costs and reduce waste, the College will be reorganizing top-level management positions and introducing a one-card swipe system within Dining Services. The restructuring comes after discussions with consulting firm Sodexo in the fall.

According to Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Patrick Norton, Sodexo was brought in because he and others “identified that there were issues around systems and general management that needed to be corrected.” Sodexo is a major player in the food service field that also offers management services. The firm is present among many local institutions, including University of Vermont, Chaplain College and Saint Michael’s College.

Though at the conclusion of Sodexo’s stay, the College decided not to employ the firm’s outside management, the company’s findings still proved to be valuable.

“[The Sodexo report] validated our thoughts,” Norton said. “You have a hypothesis and you test it. And the hypothesis was that we had issues around some systems and some general management and that’s what came back to us.”

Implementing A Swipe System

As one of the only colleges in the nation without a swipe-based meal plan, the College does not have a concrete method of determining the number of students who eat in the dining halls. Norton said that down the road, the College will likely implement a one-card system.

Discussions regarding the one-card system are still in preliminary stages. Norton clarified that introducing a one-card swipe system does not necessarily mean that the College is moving to a meal plan system, and there will be no limit to a student’s number of daily swipes.

“What the swipe card does is that it eliminates folks who aren’t students from going into our dining halls and eating,” Norton said. “That’s an issue. It’s hard to determine how pervasive the issue is, but it’s an issue. We’ve heard anecdotally that there are folks from outside who go into our dining halls and eat, and when you have an open system, that’s what happens.”

Initially, the swipe system will allow Dining Services to ensure that those eating in the dining halls are members of the College community and that guests pay the rarely-enforced five dollar breakfast, seven dollar lunch and nine dollar dinner fees.

While dining hall swipes are likely to be unlimited when the one-card system is introduced, students can have the option of putting points on their card and using it for purchases at the bookstore or at on-campus retail operations such as the Grille or Crossroads. Such a system is widely employed at schools across the nation and was once used at the College too.

A decade ago, the College employed a home-grown credit system, much like a credit card, that was used in the dining halls and food retail operations. Students were able to purchase items at The Grille and the cost was added to the end-of-semester bill. Additionally, the College  issued faculty and staff members credit cards, the charges of which were deducted from their paychecks.

According to Norton, the College eliminated the system in 2004 because “it was more credit, public credit, and why are we a credit card company?”

“For employees, it was easy to just take it out of the paycheck,” Norton said. “But for students, you have to bill them and you have to collect, and so the overhead and the time and effort just didn’t make a lot of sense.”

After a decade of virtually free-for-all dining, the College will be shifting to a more controlled, but not restrictive, system. The one-card system will be developed slowly, with careful evaluation of data and much student input.

“We do not have to go down the road of a meal plan,” Norton said. “If one of the big issues we have is around systems and practices, we get that fixed with an executive director, and if one of our other issues is that we want to restrict our dining halls to people who are actually part of the community, then that could be solved by hiring an executive director and adding a one-card. You don’t need a meal plan for that. So that’s the other issue — do we really need one?”

The College’s retail operations are largely underused. Putting points on a one-card system could allow students to eat at 51 Main or The Grille without having cash on-hand, making it easier to dine outside of the dining halls and increase retail operation traffic.

Norton does not see any downside to the one-card system because, he argues, it will not prove to be restricting and it has the potential to increase variety both in terms of where students choose to eat and what Dining Services is capable of purchasing.

“When the business is aware of how many are coming in, they know the income from those guests, it is much easier to define your purchasing needs,” wrote Director of Dining Services Matthew Biette in an email.

Just as the Weigh The Waste campaign in the fall sought to reduce food waste and refine  Dining Services spending, tracking the number of students in the dining halls will allow for more accurate budgeting. This could potentially open doors for more local food in the dining halls, increased variety and further accommodations for those with dietary restrictions.

Seeking Out New Management

Dining Services at the College is unique as Middlebury operates as a 12-month campus, rather than the nine-months for which most other schools operate. During the normal academic year, Dining Services operates three dining halls on campus, catering services and transaction-based retail operations such as The Grille, Crossroads and 51 Main. During the summer, Dining Services provides food for language schools and the Bread Loaf School of English over 10 miles away in Ripton.

The frequently changing number of students who use the dining halls, evolving dietary needs and the complexity of operations has led the College to seek restructuring within Dining Services and hire an Executive Director of Dining in the near future.

“Our systems are behind the times a bit and we need to improve them, certainly for an institution of Middlebury’s caliber … and complexity of operations,” Norton said. “We have to up our game on how we’re managing the overall operations.”

In recent years, budget cuts have led the College to reduce catering operations, eliminate juice at lunch and dinner and only offer breakfast meats on weekends.

According to Norton, the Executive Director of Dining will be responsible for the College’s three pillars of dining: retail, which encompasses The Grille, Crossroads, Wilson Café and 51 Main; catering functions; and board, or Proctor, Ross and Atwater dining halls.

“[In lieu of an outsourced general management model] we need an executive director to come in who … can actually bring in the systems and the practice that we need to get from, say, a Sodexo,” Norton said.

“But the idea is to do it ourselves, to remain self-operating, and there are a number of reasons for that. One is cost. We would contain our costs by selecting an internal hire. Number two is that we want connections to new food, curriculums being developed, we want more of a connection to local markets and we think it would be best served if we had that talent in-house to do it.”