TRU students, staff may yet get a dining hall

A Thompson Rivers University committee is examining options for better food services.

On Wednesday, David Porter of Porter Khouw Consulting — the firm hired by the committee struck this past February to address food service concerns at TRU — presented survey results and recommendations to about 40 students in the Campus Activity Centre.

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Porter presented two options for a dining hall as a long-term idea to improving food services for students and staff.

He said the facility would add more value to living on campus, while also increasing socialization amongst students in a comfortable, living room-type setting.

The first model is a purely retail scenario resembling a typical food court. The other model is an any time dining venue that features more self-serve options, which could accommodate more evening and weekend service — an issue identified by respondents in the company’s survey.

Both models would also address complaints received regarding a lack of food variety on campus and contain many other amenities, including charging plugs, soft seats and study spaces, Porter said.

The options in the two models are almost identical, with the main difference being the method of payment.

TRU food
A dining hall at TRU could give students a more comfortable place to eat while studying. - Michael Potestio

An any time dining facility would involve the customer paying a fee to enter and then having access all they can eat, rather than picking out items and paying at a register.

The model is one that has been implemented at other universities, including Simon Fraser University, Porter added.

He identified four potential spots on campus to build the hypothetical dining hall — next to Old Main Building, near the basketball courts below Old Main, in the building now housing the culinary arts department is or in the Campus Activity Centre.

Numbers in his presentation to students suggested constructing a building about 1,600 square feet in size, with about 470 seats.

Short-term options proposed by Porter included adding an any time dining facility in the culinary arts building if space becomes available or converting a section of the Campus Activity Centre into a dining hall.

The university could offer students the ability to order and pay for catered food online and be more proactive in changing menu options or providing leftovers from catered events to students on campus, he said.

The survey yielded 2,100 responses, most of which came from TRU students.

The results showed many people choosing to order out and eat off campus for a variety of reasons, the most prevalent being a lack of menu variety, price and food quality and freshness.

Porter was also at TRU for three days last month conducting interviews and focus groups, during which he heard complaints about long lines, lack of variety and limited hours of operation.

He said it wasn’t uncommon to hear students who commute to campus go home to eat and that others utilize food delivery services from grocery stores and the Skip the Dishes app.

Questions were also raised as to why TRU doesn’t have a dining hall, Porter said.

His research also showed dissatisfaction with TRU’s food-management company Aramark, which yielded many negative comments when focus groups were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with the company.

“It wasn’t really a complete condemnation of the operator, but it wasn’t complete support of the operator, either,” Porter said.

Aramark operates nine food outlets in multiple buildings on campus and has worked with TRU since 2003.

The company’s contract was last renewed in 2013 and is scheduled for a review in 2018.

Changes to food services at TRU would likely require a new contract, Porter pointed out.

“Whether you continue with Aramark or not, you’re still going to have to renegotiate the contract with Aramark to implement a program like this because this program, with the extended hours and the more variety, they’re not going to it for what they’re doing it foe now,” Porter told the crowd.

After receiving feedback from the committee, Porter said his company will create a final report on one of the two options presented to students.

He said the final report will also indicate whether TRU’s food-management contract should be rebid and how seriously self-operation should be considered.

© 2018 Kamloops This Week

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