New dining service offers a fresh food approach

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Graphic by Melvin Mendez

The University of Indianapolis announced in September of 2016 that it was searching for a new food service management company. On Jan. 20, it was publicized that UIndy had hired Quest Food Management Services to oversee dining.

For the past year and a half, UIndy had been running the dining service under UIndy Dining Services LLC, following 40 years of being run by Polk Food Services, Inc. The decision to seek out a management company was made when UIndy realized that it did not have the structure or knowledge needed to run dining, according to Vice President for Student and Campus Affairs and Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli.

“We weren’t sure when we first took it over whether it was going to be a long-term venture or not,” Vitangeli said. “One of the things we first realized was that we didn’t have a lot of the back-end infrastructure that’s needed with some of the online menu planning, [and] the nutritional information. We just were not experts at running food service. So when we kind of realized the depth of what was needed in terms of infrastructure, we decided that it would be better with a company that had experience in college and university food service.”

Before starting the search, Vitangeli held forums to gather feedback from faculty and students. UIndy then drew up a request for proposal and sent it out to food service companies that serviced higher education dining facilities. Representatives toured UIndy’s facilities and submitted bids based on their criteria. Administrators from UIndy visited and ate at the venues serviced by the companies, talked to management and administrators and assessed the philosophy of the food services before coming to their decision. Quest was chosen because they met all of UIndy’s needs, Vitangeli said.

“We were looking for a company who across-the-board was able to provide quality customer service, satisfaction and value in terms of food, but food that people really felt was fresh, quality food,” Vitangeli said. “We felt like [Quest] was a good fit. We wanted a company that had a similar philosophy to the university in which they operated like a family; they listened to students and staff and were open to feedback.”

Quest began working with the UIndy dining staff and implementing changes on Jan. 2.  According to General Manager Derrick Stevens, there was a lot of work to be done at first.

“It [the transition] was a welcome challenge,” Stevens said. “There was a lot to do very quickly in order to make a quick impact with the student body. I know they weren’t fully satisfied with what they had before, and with most everybody knowing that we were a management company coming in, the reaction, the reward, had to be instant.”

Quest takes a fresh-food approach to dining, according to Stevens. He said that Quest uses fresh, in-season food whenever possible. If the food is not in season, it’s fresh-frozen, and if it is canned, it is canned in water as opposed to syrup. Quest also made some physical changes to the main dining hall.

“We added the monitors as an easier way to see the menus for the stations,” Stevens said. “We upgraded the lighting in there [the cafeteria]. It’s much brighter than it was before. We’ve also utilized all spaces available for options.”

The changes go beyond the cafeteria.  Stevens said that Quest has been updating and adding to The Perk I, II and III and the dining options in the Health Pavilion.

“[The Perk I, II and III are] getting a refresh to become more aligned with main market Starbucks, so they’ll follow the same specials, trends, sizes and all that good stuff,” Stevens said. “The coffee shops in the library and the Health Pavilion are being upgraded, with better grab-n-go options. In the Health Pavilion, we’ve also brought on a partner of ours, Sushi Boss. They roll fresh sushi to order. It’s a really good concept [and] another option.”

Senior experience design major Tori Howell noticed the changes immediately.

“During my freshman through junior years, it [the food] was pretty much the same,” Howell said. “The really big change happened now. I’m liking the taste of the new food better than the old food.”

Being a vegetarian, Howell has a limited number of food options. She appreciated that UIndy Dining Services LLC was trying to be inclusive of vegetarians, she said, and hopes that Quest will be as well.

“I did appreciate that they [UIndy Dining Services LLC] always had veggie burgers available,” Howell said. “They always had tofu for the stir fry, which was really nice. I really liked that they had all the food labeled, because I could approximate if it had meat in it by the name.”

Howell hopes that Quest will offer more vegetarian, gluten-free and other restricted diet options within the cafeteria and will label them as well. Quest has been receiving feedback from students, and is working to implement the changes asked for, Stevens said. They are bringing back wing Fridays and providing a fish option every day for lunch and dinner, at the request of students. They also reintroduced the to-go box procedure, after hearing from students.

“The to-go box procedure was originally a small hiccup,” Stevens said. “We thought we were just cleaning up and making it less of a pile of Styrofoam, but it turns out it was presented as [if] we were taking it away some. We actually bought a whole new front desk so we could put it in a little bit better place, so everybody still has that option.”

So far, the feedback has been positive, according to Stevens. He said that students are enjoying the varied options, the fresh food and the sushi in the Health Pavilion. Throughout the remainder of the semester, Quest also will pilot new concepts to find out what students like and to improve dining more, according to Stevens.

“Basically, we’re going to use this semester to learn what the students like, what they want,” Stevens said. “Then we’ll react throughout the summer. And then in the fall, it’ll be as close to what everybody wants as possible.”

Vitangeli encourages students to continue to provide feedback, either to her or Stevens.

“The biggest thing is to please let us know if they [students] have feedback,” Vitangeli said. “We definitely want to know their feedback—what they like and what they don’t—because we definitely want to make this a student food service that they are satisfied with.”

Students can send feedback to Vitangeli or directly to Stevens at dstevens@uindydining.com.