A (Mis)Step Toward Improvement
Sodexo seemed to try and improve their services last year after Joe Capalbo, formerly of The Factory Times, voiced some criticism toward their service. However, it seems that attempt at self-improvement was short-lived.
In what might be the most egregious display by Sodexo, on September 2nd, 3rd, and particularly the 4th, the cleanliness of the Campus Center was absolutely unacceptable. On the 2nd and 3rd, there was garbage flowing out from underneath the counter, and some garbage on top. On the 4th, garbage was overflowing out of the trash cans in large piles on the counter. This situation wasn’t addressed until someone posted photos of it on Facebook and complained to the staff. Clearly, this is a problem.
Some Sodexo employees offered an explanation, stating that the dishwasher was broken last week. While that explains why styrofoam plates and plasticware were being used, it does not explain why the trash bags were not being taken out more often. When something goes wrong, you must have a backup plan. The causes and excuses are irrelevant; the problems need to be prepared for and taken care of by Sodexo. Sodexo consistently fails to meet the quality standards that a dining service for a school like SUNY Poly should have.
Often, employees have no idea what they are serving in the Campus Center. Just the other day, my roommates and I experienced a situation that has been echoed by students since I was a freshman. When asked what was being served on the hot line, the student serving the food responded with “I don’t know, I just work here.” The menu isn’t even always sitting on the counter like it is supposed to, so students know what ingredients are in the food they are eating.
This isn’t entirely the fault of the people serving the food, as many of the servers are part-time workers and/or students. While this doesn’t excuse them from doing their job correctly, they are not entirely to blame for the multiple levels Sodexo has been failing the students on. In the case described above, the managers at the Campus Center should’ve prepared a backup plan to deal with the excess trash. Their staff is often undertrained. The food that is being served often doesn’t follow standard health guidelines, or is just flat-out disgusting. Cleanliness, quality of food, and quality of service are key aspects of running a successful dining hall. Sodexo has been consistently falling short of these standards.
This is half a stick of unmelted butter in a scoop of mashed potatoes.
This is a peach that a student bit into at the Campus Center.
This is a “breakfast burrito” from the Campus Center. A strip of crispy chicken, with a slice of unmelted cheese on top, complete with undercooked bacon in the bottom right corner and burnt potatoes on top.
Here is plastic packaging material on a slice of pizza.
In addition to these constant gross discoveries in our meals at the Campus Center, the selection of food served at each meal is often not a healthy mix. On any given day, there will be between one and four different kinds of carbs. Some sort of potatoes, pasta, rice, and/or corn are served almost every day. However, Sodexo consistently fails to offer a large assortment of fresh or cooked vegetables. According to the Healthy Eating Plate and the Healthy Eating Pyramid from Harvard University, half of your plate at each meal should be a large assortment of different vegetables (the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate specifically states that potatoes and french fries, a staple of the Campus Center, do not count), colorful fruits, whole grains (not white bread, white rice, or regular pasta, another staple of the Campus Center), and healthy proteins, such as nuts, fish, poultry, and beans (not hamburgers, pork chops or steak, and cold cuts).
(Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
Dinner at the Campus Center often does not consist of what most nutrition professionals would consider a healthy meal. Students trying to eat healthy and lose weight should have the option to do so. Residential students are required to have a meal plan; a very expensive meal plan. Those students should be receiving a quality service if they are required to pay for it. There’s nothing wrong with offering these less-healthy foods; variety is great. Sometimes, you want food that isn’t good for you because it tastes good. However, these should not be the only options.
Promising to work diligently to improve their services and to not allow this to happen again is not good enough. When Sodexo is called out for their mistakes, they promise to improve and to not let these things happen again. After everyone stops paying attention and caring, Sodexo seems to slip back into their bad habits. When The Factory Times criticized them last Fall, Sodexo addressed every criticism by the Spring semester. Sodexo even started Poly Pizza, which is one of the most popular services they offer here at SUNY Poly. However, this semester was rife with mistakes before most students even arrived on campus. The peach and the half stick of butter happened in August, when RAs were the only students on campus. Then, the first week all students are back, the garbage incident occurred. Soon after that, the “breakfast burrito” was served. A couple days later and a student submitted photos to us of plastic they found in their slice of pizza. It’s only been two weeks, and we have documented seven incidents of unacceptable service from Sodexo.
Each residential student at SUNY Poly is required to have a meal plan. Students pay between $4550 and $4800 a year on their meal plan. Residential students are collectively paying nearly $4,000,000 for Sodexo’s services. This comes out to an estimated $15 dollars a meal.
$15 dollars a meal is a lot of money per meal. Assuming that you only eat two meals a day, that's $210 a week. With a required meal plan, you have no say in what is being served or what you’re going to be eating. You could easily sustain yourself for half of that. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion created a chart that allows you to determine the cost of food at home on four different tiers: the thrifty plan, the low-cost plan, the moderate-cost plan, and the liberal plan. According to this chart, a family of four males between the age of 19-50 would be about $87.00 a week on the most liberal plan. That’s still not even half of the cost students pay for the required meal plan at SUNY Poly.
As students of SUNY Poly, we all hold a certain level of pride in our school. We aren’t trying to complain about things incessantly or talk badly about the school because we are trying to ruin its reputation. We want everything at our school to be held to a high standard, just like we are held to in our classes and we hold our professors to. Thankfully, the SGU President Samantha Stewart is also looking out for the students. As soon as she heard about the incident, she contacted John Reale and steps towards reconciling the situation began.
Sodexo has done, is doing, and is planning some great things for this campus. Poly Pizza was a massive success and it will certainly continue to be a massive success if Sodexo continues to produce quality food at Poly Pizza. Sodexo’s attempt at a pub in the Student Center Pub was very well done and very enjoyable for the students that attended it during its short lifespan. However, issues with getting students to attend, partially due to a problem with serving alcohol that was out of Sodexo’s control, made it an unprofitable event. This is not Sodexo’s fault; student interest simply didn’t catch on as well as the SGU members and Sodexo staff who worked on the pub had hoped. Finally, before the end of this semester, Sodexo has stated they will be opening up a cafe in the library. This cafe will have certain products exclusive to the cafe, and it will hopefully be a fantastic space for students to both get work done and as a place for students to relax while enjoying a snack or a cup of coffee.
The Factory Times will continue to report on Sodexo’s affairs. When they do well, we will praise them. This is not a battle on the personal integrity of any single person who works for Sodexo. This is simply an attempt at voicing the concerns of the student body, who deserve to be heard and to receive better service for the large amount of money we are required to pay.
The Factory Times attempted to contact Sodexo through John Reale for comment. According to Reale, Sodexo is preparing a statement that they plan on releasing eventually. No concrete date as to when this statement will be released was given to The Factory Times.