By Aleksandra Sidorova
Chartwells, the company providing campus dining, hosted a focus group to with Housing and Community Living at Moffitt Hall Thursday, April 21. The event was open to students living in DeFredenburgh, Moffitt and Wilson Halls.
Currently, the Anytime Dining + $125 meal plan all freshmen are put on costs $5,300 per year, and according to an email sent by Moffitt Community Director (CD) Tylea McCarthy-Walker Monday, April 18, the price is set to increase in the coming academic year. Resident District Manager Christopher Mihalyi said meal plan prices increase almost every year.
“We have to balance increases in costs of goods, procurement of those goods and labor in order to remain competitive,” Mihalyi wrote in an email.
By hosting the focus group, Chartwells aimed to gather feedback on “how they can make the meal plan worth the price.”
Ten students gave their feedback on the variety, value, quality, customer service, healthy options and communications at campus dining locations. Students rated the categories on a scale from one to five and shared both complaints and constructive criticism.
Quasi Gittens, a freshman majoring in TV-video production, shared many of his opinions.
“I think [the Chartwells representatives] were very respectful, very nice, and I feel like something will be done,” Gittens said. “I know that there will be a change.”
The primary criticism was the lack of variety in food, especially retail meals. They also said the campus dining locations offered few gluten-free, vegan and healthy options and were inconsistent with their food quality. Three Chartwells employees, Director of Dining Services Mark Brothers, Mihalyi and Marketing Director Amy Rascoe, were present to ask students questions and take notes of their feedback.
Mihalyi said changes may be implemented by next semester. Chartwells will attempt to address specifically the top five to 10 points students most voiced.
“We want to address everything, but we want to kind of get the low-hanging fruit as much as possible,” Mihalyi said. “If it’s quick to fix, if it’s straightforward, it makes it very straightforward for us to find a resolution. But also if something is more complicated but a lot of students are looking for that change, that’s worth the investment of time, too.”
Mihalyi was satisfied with the number of attendees for the focus group, but hoped for more.
“It was a very good conversation,” Mihalyi said. “Constructive criticism comes through. It’s exactly what we’re looking for, but these focus groups become even more successful if we have 30 people in the room, because it’s that many more students. While the opinion of five or six students matters very much, a large room to be able to bounce off ideas and have a constructive dialogue would have a larger impact.”
Wilson CD Thomas Landon disagreed, saying multiple small-scale events can gather more feedback by letting every student who attends be heard. Housing will conduct two more focus groups for the remaining residence hall. Mihalyi said there will also be an opportunity for off-campus students to voice their opinions, but such an event required more planning due to a lack of a “centralized office” aside from Fraternity and Sorority Life dedicated to off-campus students.
According to Mihalyi, there used to be a “more comprehensive program” of gathering feedback from students before the pandemic. He said students had more “avenues” to share their concerns and feedback, making for a more transparent relationship between Chartwells and the student body.
“We want to revisit the conversations because we really want the student voice to drive the development of the program,” Mihalyi said.