With changes to University dining services on the horizon, a look back on key updates

Although the contract is not finalized, a new dining vendor will provide food services to the University starting July 2022.


Andrew Stoup

Students wait in lines at the Pioneer Hall Dining Center on Sunday, Feb. 13.

by Roque Wood-Sinclair

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted Dec. 16 to implement a new dining vendor for the Twin Cities campus starting July 2022.
Chartwells, the new dining vendor, will replace Aramark, which has supplied food and dining services to the University since 1998. Students have repeatedly raised concerns over Aramark not aligning with University principles and the company’s business model. Other student concerns have included dining hall accessibility and the availability of food to accommodate different cultures and diets.
These student concerns have persisted through contract renewals with the dining vendor. Over this time period, M Dining has held conversations with students and University administration has aimed to consult with students before making decisions, according to an October 2021 press release.
Trey Feuerhelm, the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) Basic Needs Task Force chair, voiced his concerns on the new contract and desire for further consultation with MSA.
“I think the [regents and consulting firm] did a pretty solid job in trying to hear what students wanted in the new dining contract, and what changes they wanted made,” Feuerhelm said.“But that was all done on their side, their marketing to host their own roundtables, host their own discussions, and create their own surveys and things like that.”
Dining services on the Twin Cities campuses became contracted with Aramark for the first time in 1998. Prior to this time, the University’s food services were self-operated, similar to other Big Ten schools.
Through a contract approved by the Board of Regents, the University renewed the contract with Aramark for 12 years. This contract also included the possibility for renewal, if Aramark continued to meet performance measures, according to a 2008 report from the Office of General Counsel.
The contract also stated Aramark must commit themselves to supporting businesses owned by women, minorities and people with disabilities, and have corporate responsibility regarding sustainability and recycling, according to the contract. Regents at the time considered returning to a self-operating model, but ultimately determined the transition would be difficult.
In October 2019, regents began to review Aramark as they considered a contract extension with the company. Administration asked for a two-year extension to conduct focus groups with student advisory and management committees. During this two-year period, the board said they would also consider hiring a new vendor or returning to a self-operated model, according to October 2019 docket materials from the Finance and Operations Committee.
Students who opposed the contract extension said “the company did not offer healthy, vegetarian and vegan options and foods for students with allergies and religious dietary restrictions,” according to the Star Tribune.
Due to the impacts of the pandemic, an additional contract extension with Aramark was approved in September 2020.
During the fall semester, administration contracted with an outside foodservice consulting firm to assist in determining whether the University could go back to a self-contracted operation or find another food service vendor.
This consultation did not meet students’ expectations of involvement in dining decisions and most of the same concerns lingered, according to Feuerhelm. Despite desiring more consultation, Feuerhelm said he was excited about new language in the contract that signaled local food co-ops and distributors could be introduced to campus dining in the future.
In November, the University began drafting a Request for Proposal, a document that allowed several outside companies to make bids for a dining contract with the University. This officially signaled the University’s plan to move away from Aramark.
Responses from outside vendors looking to secure the contract with the University were collected in May and June. Starting in September 2021, administration consulted with campus stakeholders, according to docket materials from the October meeting.
At the December board meeting, Compass Group USA, Inc. through its Chartwells Division became the University’s new food service vendor on the Twin Cities Campus. The contract spans from July 2022 to June 2032.
In January, the transition to the new contract with Chartwells began. In addition to a change in vendor, dining hall hours and operations are also shifting.
Amy Keran, the University’s director of contract administration within auxiliary services, said their goal is to open dining halls by 7 a.m. and have expanded evening hours, so students can treat it more like their kitchen.
“So if they wanted to stop in and get a cup of coffee before they went out for a morning run, they could do that,” Kernan said. “And then after that, they could come back and have breakfast. We really wanted to feel more like a place where they could just walk in and grab something and feel at home.”
Both Feuerhelm and Eli Wurster, MSA’s Campus Life Committee Director, said that while MSA helped administration consult with students, they desired more involvement in the process of selecting a new vendor.
“So they’ve been doing maybe one, maybe two years of campus surveying and campus roundtables trying to get all the student input, not necessarily involving student government or MSA, particularly as far as I’m aware,” Feuerhelm said.