It seems like every day I hear complaints about campus food. And I won’t pretend I don’t complain myself. But out of all the people I’ve heard complain, I don’t know if I could name one who actually spoke up about it—I certainly haven’t. Sure, I often asked for the salad greens to be refilled at the Colman Commons salad bar when I lived in residence or inquired about clean fork availability, but I never set up a formal meeting or wrote a letter expressing what I really thought about food on campus.
So back in December, while checking out the UTM Hospitality and Retails Services website, I was surprised to discover that we have a Resident Student Dining Committee and a Food Service Advisory Committee. H&RS oversees food services (including UTM’s relationship with Chartwells), meal plans, conference and event services, vending services, liquor licence management, and duplicating and mail services, as well as relationships with U of T Press and Scotiabank.
Chartwells looks after the operation of the food service outlets and catering services at UTM. I asked Andrea De Vito, the assistant director of retail services and administration, for more information about these committees.
The FSAC comprises representatives of the major stakeholder groups on campus. The committee was established in order to advise the director of H&RS on food service issues and to allow discussion of these issues between H&RS and the UTM community. The first meeting took place in November 2012, and since then the committee has tried to hold about four meetings a year. It will play a major role in the development of the Permanent Food Court in the Davis Building (supposed to materialize about three years down the road) and the food services provider contract.
Meanwhile, efforts to create the RSDC go as far back as 2007, when Colman Commons first opened and a Resident Student Meal Plan was created. The committee had its first formal meeting in 2009 and tries to meet four times a year, although it depends on the availability of the student representatives elected from each first-year and upper-year residence and the length of the election each fall. The director and assistant director of H&RS, as well as the Chartwells general and residence managers, also participate. Acting as a subcommittee to the FSAC, the RSDC advises H&RS on food service matters and meal plan issues specific to residence students.
De Vito explains that the committees are very action-oriented. “Actionable items are recorded and, if possible, are resolved by the next scheduled meeting,” he says. Aside from overlapping members, the committees share other commonalities. Particularly, if any issues raised in one are relevant to the mandate of the other, they may both review them. For example, De Vito says, “based on feedback from the RSDC, we prepared a conceptual list of what resident students wanted to see in the Colman Commons expansion. This list was brought forward to the FSAC for review before submitting it to the project committee.”
Despite their relatively recent establishment, the committees have already implemented several policy changes, including the creation of an H&RS Twitter account, the expansion of the menu, the extension of operating hours at Starbucks during exams, and the acceptance of debit and credit cards at Colman Commons. Meanwhile, the FSAC has doubled the number of microwaves for students in dining areas on campus, revamped the TFC’s International Kitchen menu, introduced the Value Meal program in the TFC, and expanded the Tim Card program to include the full-service Tim Hortons in the Davis Building (but not the self-serve).
De Vito explains that while the committees are not open forums, anyone can sit in, and anyone can bring issues to members’ attention to be brought up later on their behalf.
“Specific food concerns should be brought to the unit onsite managers in real time so that the issues can be resolved quickly and without interruption to the student’s day,” De Vito adds. “Chartwells always has managers on duty to make sure immediate action can be taken if necessary.”
The H&RS office also gets feedback from students through the UTM Dine on Campus website. De Vito says the committee has always had an open door policy, and he feels that they have a good working relationship with many students, staff, and faculty on campus.
“We treat their issues the same as those brought up in any committee meeting—we will take action if required, and we will have open discussions on issues to help people understand why certain decisions were made and where food services are going at the UTM,” he says
These discussions form part of the basis for the office’s large-scale food development decisions, like the planned construction of the Permanent Food Court, the idea for which came from service surveys conducted in 2011. De Vito believes that “one of our challenges is that students often don’t realize how far in advance these decisions need to be made”.
When asked if students’ knowledge of and relationship with the food services office could be improved on, De Vito responds, “We think students have shown to be very intuitive and are willing to ask the right questions and challenge policies or decisions with which they don’t agree. But part of formulating an argument to support your viewpoint is having the willingness to get all of the information to ensure that your argument is impactful and can produce successful action.
“We think students are very aware of trends in the food service industry and what food service initiatives are taking place on other campuses,” De Vito continues. “As for their knowledge of our programs and policies, we need to do a better job of more effectively communicating them to the students. […] In general, we are always looking to improve our relationship with the students, and we hope that the reverse is true as well.”