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Why DDS Really Sucks (3/3)

So what to do about DDS? After decades of decline (students were not obliged to buy meal plans until about 1999), any intelligent observer has to conclude that the College is not temperamentally equipped to run a huge food service operation (or pretty much any business that competes with the private sector).

That proposition is certainly true regarding the hotel business, and several years ago the College wisely gave the running of the Hanover Inn over to the Pyramid Hotel Group, an independent operator. This decision came after decades of million-dollar losses and deferred maintenance, a neglect that culminated with a massively expensive renovation project (over $50 million according to some reports). Today the Inn is far better managed than it was when directed by people chosen by Parkhurst.

An observer described for me how the transition took place from the Dartmouth-run/SEIU-controlled Inn to the one we have today (one that makes money for the College rather than losing it):

The Inn needed to officially “close” as a business for 24 hours to get out of the SEIU obligations. The entire staff “lost their jobs.” Then Pyramid invited everyone who wanted to work there to reapply. Pyramid interviewed and re-hired the staffers they wanted to keep, and the rest moved on to find employment someplace else. I heard that about half of the Inn’s former, SEIU employees were re-hired by Pyramid. But, going forward, this strategy relieved Pyramid from all obligations in Dartmouth’s SEIU contracts. Today the staff culture is much more upbeat and positive, and the customer service, guest experience and food quality are vastly improved from what they were before. I sense it every time I visit the Inn.

The alternative for DDS? As you would expect, there are well managed, competitive, private companies that can provide dining services to the College community, just as other companies provide things like computers, paper, phone services, buildings, furniture, and virtually everything else that Dartmouth consumes.

At the Student Assembly meeting regarding DDS, I suggested to Director Jon Plodzik that the College outsource dining service to a private sector business. It is fair to say that at that point he lost control of himself. He angrily asked what I was doing at a meeting for students, and while blocking me from speaking, he went on to say that he had worked at the food service units of Marriott and Sodexo, and, he said, we should be shocked to know that these companies expected him to send a 3% profit margin to the head office each month.

The horror. However that modest statistic means that students and their schools received 97% of well managed value from these companies. Are Dartmouth students getting that percentage today? Ask any undergraduate you happen to see for the answer to that question.

A few years ago, I looked at the issue of outsourcing the College’s dining function. Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO) seemed the cream of the crop, and I reported on a long conversation that I had with the director of student life at Cornell College regarding the transition at his school to Bon Appétit. Look at a simple list from among hundreds of BAMCO’s clients (sophisticated purchasers, if you ask me):

BAMCO Clients.jpg

And watch a video about the company:

Outsourcing dining services is where the College should be heading, unless we want to continue to have students who are almost universally unhappy with Dartmouth Dining Services, and who tell their friends in the outside world that dining at Dartmouth sucks.

Addendum: Let me ask a general question. How bad do things have to get at the College (underpaid faculty; declining infrastructure, poor fundraising, etc.) before the Trustees insist on the dismantling the life-sapping bureaucracy?

Addendum: The College’s student social justice warriors find themselves in a difficult situation here: if they support overpaid and under-working union members at DDS, they condemn themselves to substandard and over-priced dining at Dartmouth. They can’t have the best of two worlds in this situation. Are they willing to wait in line for hours in order to overpay workers (all of whom could get good jobs in the Upper Valley, where there is a severe labor shortage at present).

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

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