Questions about the upcoming campus dining service will be fully answered within weeks, said university officials.
However, to address questions from parents and students, the university released a preliminary list of meal plans but qualified that the prices listed are not final, said Director of Communications Tom Scherberger. The list does, however, represent the maximum possible prices for the plans—the final prices might be less expensive, but no more expensive.
Residential students classified as “first time in college” will be required to purchase the $1,600 per semester plan that includes 19 meals per week and 100 “dining dollars.” Dining dollars is a spending account that can be used outside the main dining hall, presumably with the upcoming “coffee kiosk” and participating outside vendors.
Returning students will also have the option of selecting one of two block meal plan: 110 meals per semester at $1,000 or 100 meals at $850. Both plans include 50 dining dollars.
A fourth option for commuter students has 50 meals and 50 dining dollars for $485.
The university will not confirm which of the two final vendors, Aramark and Sodexo, is most likely to win the 5-year, once-renewable contract and has not set a deadline. The university also maintains that it is within the boundaries of an exemption to the Florida open records law that allows government institutions to negotiate large purchases and contracts outside of public scrutiny for a limited amount of time.
However, a memo issued on January 27 by the committee tasked with evaluating the proposals weighing the pros and cons of each vendor painted a favorable picture of Sodexo, saying it gave a “strong presentation” that was “tailored” for the needs of USFSP.
The group also praised Sodexo for its “Shoestring Catering” designed for student organizations and clubs, a proposed $150,000 scholarship fund, interest in working with local suppliers and vendors, dining dollars that carry over between semesters and “menus which appeared to be stronger than those presented by Aramark,” including seasonal options.
In a packet answering questions from the university, Sodexo replied “there’ll be something for everybody, whether it’s vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free, low fat, high protein—all freshly prepared.” Sodexo also plans to serve Starbucks coffee, sandwiches, salads and soups at the coffee kiosk.
Aramark’s information packets could not be obtained by The Crow’s Nest prior to publication.
Sodexo’s negatives compared to Aramark, the committee listed, were a smaller number of student employment opportunities, less-flexible dining plans and $25,000 less gift-in-kind funds than the $125,000 offered by Aramark.
Gift-in-kind funds are used to provide food from the vendor for university events. Under USF Tampa’s current contract with Aramark, these funds are controlled by the Division of Student Affairs.
“Aramark did not appear to be as prepared as Sodexo and their presentation was not as well crafted or detailed,” the memo said. The committee also said Aramark’s presentation was “relatively Tampa-centric” in contrast to the “USFSP-focused” presentation by Sodexo.
However, the committee “as a whole agreed that ultimately either vendor would be able to provide services needed at USFSP.”
All residential students, including those living in the Bayfront Hilton, will be required to purchase a meal plan starting in the fall, a common practice among universities across the country, Scherberger wrote in an email. “In fact, a meal plan has been the No. 1 request from parents of potential students.”
Local restaurants, including the Tavern at Bayboro, have been approached about becoming partners in the dining dollars program. A setup fee, yearly fee and in some cases, a change in the business’s point-of-sale equipment would be required to integrate with the program.