Advisory board announces dining plan, brings consulting firm to campus

Olivia Exstrum, Campus Editor

An advisory board composed of University officials and student representatives convened for the first time two weeks ago to discuss a master dining plan. The plan was announced during Wednesday’s Associated Student Government Senate meeting by representatives from Envision Strategies, the consulting firm hired to help draft the plan.

“We’re really looking at big-picture things, but in order for us to look at those, we really need to understand how well it’s working now,” Rob White, president of the firm, said at the meeting. “We’re really trying to look at what’s right for Northwestern and what we might aspire to do about dining.”

Those drafting the plan will consider locations, hours of service, menus, sustainability and meal plans, White said.

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, associate vice president for auxiliary services, said the plan will encompass all aspects of NU dining, including dining hall, retail and catering services.

“The way we’re choosing to do this is an intensive process, which is to reach out to a consultant who specializes in this area and will give us an objective perspective and help us develop a plan to get there,” Payne-Kirchmeier said.

SESP junior Chris Harlow, ASG student life vice president, said a dining plan has been in the works since last spring. However, he said, it took time to find the right consultant. Representatives from Envision Strategies were on campus Tuesday through Thursday to observe, tour and meet with different University officials.

Payne-Kirchmeier said the consultants will then develop “common themes” on what should be included in the plan. From there, she said, the board will develop a survey to distribute to all of campus. She said they plan to launch the survey in late February. The board will meet again with the consultants, who will give their recommendations, and they will develop a plan. She said they hope to have a plan developed by June or July.

Harlow said although it is too early to know what issues it hopes to focus on in the plan, the board spent time with the firm brainstorming areas of improvement, such as athlete diets.

“What is it we need to focus on first?” Harlow said. “What do students now want, and what do we expect the students of the future to want?”

In addition, Harlow said the last thing the firm will consider is the contracts of campus food providers like Aramark and Sodexo.

“How can we look at all this info we have and plan structurally?” he said. “How can we better negotiate or write better contracts to hold them accountable and also provide better services?”

Payne-Kirchmeier said the advisory board includes representatives from the Kellogg School of Management, the athletics department, Student Affairs and the student body. Currently, there are nine people on the team, but she said they are hoping to add a graduate student as well.

Payne-Kirchmeier said the dining plan will be closely linked to master plans the University has undertaken in other areas, like athletics and housing.

“We’re at the very beginning of this process, we’re at a really open stage,” she said. “When we start to develop the elements of the plan, we’ll decide what our community needs. … It’s an evolution of being strategic and intentional with all our plans on campus, all those things that have food tied to them.”

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