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Outsourcing food services, bookstores a national trend

On July 1, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) changed its bookstore and its food services operation by outsourcing them to Barnes & Noble and Aramark, respectively.

Barnes & Noble is a New York-based bookstore company that opened its doors decades ago to sell textbooks and, over the years, has expanded to become one of the country’s leading bookstore chains. Aramark, cited by Fortune magazine as the country’s best food outsourcing company, operates college food operations across the United States and Canada.

The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) turned to Aramark for food outsourcing in the early 1990s and to Barnes & Noble in 1996. Mississippi State University (MSU) has outsourced its bookstore operations to Follette College Stores Corporation but still does all of its own food services.

USM’s outsourcing with Aramark had its genesis last fall when students proposed an off-campus meal plan to the administration.

“The university has a compulsory meal plan for all students living in dormitories,” according to Angela Cutrer, assistant director of public relations and marketing at USM. “And there’s a voluntary plan for students who live off-campus and for faculty and staff members.”

Two committees of students, faculty and staff visited Georgia Tech and the University of Alabama, where they toured food services, compared vendors and talked to students and employees. This helped to determine USM’s decision to turn to outsourcing and to choose Aramark.

“The food offered by Aramark will wow our students and keep more of them on campus in the evening, on weekends and between classes,” according to Joe Paul, USM vice president for student affairs.

A residential restaurant, RFoC — Real Food on Campus — will feature made-to-order, grilled panini sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, warm, just-out-of-the-oven breads and cookies that bake while the students watch.

The former power plant across from Cook Library will be the location of A Fresh Food Company, modeled after a European marketplace. It will feature upscale, authentic foods from around the world.

The current Seymour’s will be replaced by a food court whose vendors include Bene Pizza and Pasta, Express, Chick-fil-A, Montague’s Deli, Home Zone and Salad Garden. In the R.C. Cook University Union building, which is now under construction, the atrium will feature Java City. Students in the freshman quad will have access to a speciality sub shop, Bene Pizza and Pasta and Freshens Smoothies. Candy, beverages, chips, fruit, sundries and other such items will be available in the quad at C3 — Convenience to the Third Power.

In the Payne Center atrium, students can enjoy freshly-made wrap sandwiches and watch exhibition-style sauté cooking at Pan Geos. There will also be a Pan Geos in Hillcrest Residence Hall this year and, in 2007, the Hillcrest food service will be expanded to include Montague’s Deli and C3. In Elam Arms, residents will be able to enjoy a large variety of food in the Elam Arms Diner.

And students using Cook Library in the center of the campus will have a Starbucks in the first floor lobby.

Barnes & Noble will, for now, take over the current bookstore location and move into the University Union when it is completed.

“The bookstore at Georgia Tech was amazing,” according to Beth Cooksey, a USM committee member. “Our university community will love it, and I think it will draw people from the community onto campus to shop.”

“Students are pleased with the food service that Aramark provides,” according to Kathleen Tidwell, manager of contract services management at Ole Miss. “They particularly like the food court and the Mongolian Grill there, where they can watch food being cooked.”

In the early 1990s, Ole Miss asked for bids from companies that operated campus food services. Aramark won the bid and their contract has been renewed. They operate all the Ole Miss food services, including such franchises as Chick-fil-A. Aramark buys all the food and hires all employees.

At Ole Miss, there’s the “ALL YOU CAN EAT” cafeteria in Johnson Commons, which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday and Friday breakfast and lunch.

The Ole Miss Union Food Court, which is open seven days a week when school is in session, features Chick-fil-A, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Blimpies sandwiches, Café Features, Grille Works, Allegro Pasta, the Wokery and the Mongolian Grill.

In the computer lab, there’s the Blue Light Café, which offers varieties of coffee, as well as muffins and salads.

A Starbucks is located in the bookstore; the Alumni House Snack Bar offers breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday and convenience stores with extended hours are located at Stockard/Martin and Crosby, offering pizza, deli sandwiches, drinks, ice cream, chips and candy. There’s a smaller convenience store in the Ole Miss Union.

Freshmen who live on campus are required to participate in a meal plan. The bookstore, though operated by Barnes & Noble, is still called the Ole Miss Bookstore. It sells textbooks and other material required in courses, the kind of trade books found in any Barnes & Noble and such merchandise as T-shirts, sweat shirts, women’s mesh shorts, key chains, stained glass table lamps, dangle earrings and Boston Irish mugs, all with the Ole Miss logo.

There are no other retail outlets, such as clothing stores, on the campus.

Southern Miss, in outsourcing to Aramark and Barnes & Noble, is joining a national trend. UNICCO Service Company, an integrated facilities service company, surveyed 112 colleges about outsourcing. Sixty-one percent responded that they outsourced food services and 52% outsourced their bookstores.

At USM, current bookstore and food services employees will retain their jobs, working for Aramark and Barnes & Noble, and will be given a 5% raise.

“We required their written obligation that the employees would be taken care of,” said Gregg Lassen, USM’s chief financial officer.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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