Sodexo plans for future of dining

Students utilize Sodexo’s new Friday coffee bar.

McKenna Howenstine|Marlin Chronicle

At Virginia Wesleyan University, the dining hall is more than just a place to grab a meal—it’s a hub of culinary innovation and community engagement. In the realm of campus dining, Tim Lockett stands as a guiding force for Virginia Wesleyan University. As the General Manager for Sodexo, Lockett oversees a multifaceted operation encompassing the dining hall, food court, convenience store and catering services.

Delving into the intricacies of menu planning, Lockett elucidated the meticulous production system employed by the cafeteria. “We have what we call a production system… It’s the menus, it’s what we prepare every day, we look at it about two weeks out, we print it all up,” Lockett said. 

Lockett emphasized the importance of catering to diverse tastes and nutritional needs. “There’s a bland diversity in there, everything from the healthier choices to the popular choices, and those two things aren’t the same,” Lockett said. 

Lockett introduced the “mindful program,” designed to offer students interesting and healthy food options. Additionally, he highlighted their advanced menu system, which provides detailed nutrition information for each meal, including whether it’s vegan or vegetarian and if it falls under the mindful program.

Addressing concerns regarding dietary restrictions and preferences, Lockett emphasized the dining hall’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility. “We have specific training for the chefs that work at the station. We have a separate prep area and ovens to cook all that food in,” Lockett said.

In addition to Lockett’s insights, senior Sarah Blackburn, who plays a vital role on the catering side and in the Culinary Council, shed light on several initiatives aimed at enhancing the dining experience for students.

Blackburn mentioned efforts to accommodate dietary restrictions. “We’re trying to push for gluten-free bread at the grill and introduce cauliflower crust pizza for students with gluten sensitivities,” Blackburn said. 

Blackburn also discussed plans to provide more options for students with busy schedules. “We’re working on introducing pre-ordering options for meals to provide convenience and flexibility, allowing students to plan their dining ahead of time,” Blackburn said.

Similarly, senior Zion Purvis-Allen, a student worker for Sodexo, the company running the campus dining, provided valuable insights into the strengths and challenges of the dining facilities and suggested opportunities for improvement. From his perspective, the dining hall’s meal plan and Harbor Grill offerings boast several strengths, including affordability and a strong sense of community.

Purvis-Allen highlighted the economic value of the meal plans and the opportunity for students to connect and socialize over meals, contributing to a positive overall experience. Purvis-Allen appreciates recent measures to enhance the dining experience, such as the introduction of a new coffee machine, which has been well-received by students. 

“The new coffee machine was a great measure to boost that satisfaction,” Purvis-Allen said. “A day does not go by that I see at least five or more students with that iconic brown cup.”

He also highlighted the role of non-student workers in creating a welcoming atmosphere through friendly interactions and service with a smile.

However, Purvis-Allen acknowledged common challenges faced by students, such as running out of Flex Dollars too early in the semester. To address this issue, he proposed separate allocations of Flex Dollars for the Harbor Grill and Coastal Market, providing students with more flexibility in their dining choices and balancing distribution.

“Students sometimes complain about running out of Flex Dollars too early, and I would propose having separate money for the grill and for the Coastal Market,” Purvis-Allen said. “The Coastal Market is a great hub, but the grill is also great as well. For a student like myself, it’s hard to pick between great snacks or great food, so I would give $100 Flex for the grill and $100 Flex for the Coastal Market to even out the distribution.”

Senior Nagisa Takayanagi suggested extending cafeteria operating hours, particularly for dinner service, to accommodate students’ varying schedules. Additionally, Takayanagi advocated for greater flexibility in meal plan usage to allow students to make better use of their allocated swipes and address concerns about affordability and convenience.

However, Takayanagi expressed satisfaction with the variety of food options available in the dining hall. “I think the variety of food is very nice because you get the salads, meats and Worldly Wednesdays,” Takayanagi said. 

Takayanagi raised concerns about the sodium content in some meals. “I feel like they tend to put a lot of sodium, so that’s why I have to be careful, but I am very satisfied with the variety of food that they have at the cafeteria,” Takayanagi said.

In addition to the overview of the cafeteria from a different perspective, Lockett emphasized a culture of accessibility and openness within the cafeteria. “We have an open door, we’re here, this is all we do,” Lockett said. “If you have an issue, we’re available. Come and see us.” 

His vision for the cafeteria extends beyond mere sustenance, encompassing a holistic commitment to student well-being and community enrichment. This philosophy underscores the cafeteria’s role not only as a dining facility, but also as a central hub for fostering student engagement and satisfaction.

Overall, dining services strive for excellence and inclusivity through collaboration and dialogue. By maintaining an open-door policy and encouraging feedback from students, faculty and staff, the cafeteria endeavors to meet the diverse needs and preferences of its body. Through ongoing efforts to enhance menu options, accommodate dietary restrictions and improve service, the cafeteria remains dedicated to culinary excellence and satisfaction for all members of the Marlin community.

By Daniela Angeles Galvan