College of Wooster to outsource its dining and custodial services to meet new demands
WOOSTER – The nearly two-year-long pandemic and supply chain issues have taken a toll on the College of Wooster's dining and custodial departments.
The two departments lost staff and were unable to fill in the gaps despite increasing wages and benefits, President Sarah Bolton said.
With hard-to-find staff combined with a need to diversify cafeteria menus while navigating supply chain shortages, Bolton announced in early January the college would outsource its dining and custodial services.
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"While we will no longer be the direct employer of the dining team, we have a great deal of control to make sure that our current employees, as well as future employees of the program, are well compensated and supported," Bolton wrote in an email to the campus community.
The transition from independent dining and custodial operations to a contracted partner is set for July, she wrote.
The decision to redirect dining and custodial services to an outside contractor was not taken lightly, Bolton said in the email.
The College of Wooster is one of the 13 colleges and universities that are part of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, a nonprofit that represents higher education in three states.
A vast majority of these institutions run their dining services using a contracted partner, Bolton said.
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Custodians were stretched thin due to a lack of staff, making it harder to keep up with the pressures of pandemic guidelines, Bolton wrote.
While contractors were hired to fill in custodial gaps, none were used in college cafeterias, according to Bolton's email.
This made it hard to address the dietary restrictions of students, she said.
"While we may have only one student with a particular set of dietary needs every few years, an outside partner will have a variety of prepared menus (and ingredients, and cooking methods) for every need and circumstance, along with expertise in food-labeling technologies," she wrote.
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An outside dining partner could also have more leverage in the supply chain, making it easier for the college to navigate pitfalls, she said.
A contracted partner would result in outsourced training that Bolton said would create curated employees for different locations in the college.
While the college is still considering its options, Bolton noted that the move from independent to contracted services was not made to improve the bottom line.
"It is our hope that the net cost to the college will not be higher than what we are currently paying, but a lot depends on recommendations being made by the vendors for potential program enhancements and how those enhancements resonate with our campus community," said a spokesperson for the college.
Students will not shoulder any cost increase, and donors will not be solicited, they said.
Continuing local partnerships
Several local businesses have benefitted from the change in food service as they are now being featured more in the dining spaces on the campus.
Oma Gourd specializes in "Chipotle-style food," said owner and Wooster native Justin Mullis. The local food business serves roughly 500 to 600 students each week when they come to the Kittredge Dining Hall on campus, Mullis said.
This arrangement came about when the college reached out last year to the Local Roots and Market Cafe, where Mullis' business serves lunch every Monday. The college asked if any of the chefs were interested in serving food on campus.
"Me being the opportunist that I am, I didn't even get any details about it," Mullis said. "I just knew the College of Wooster and lots of students. Yeah, let's talk about how we can make this happen."
Mullis and his staff have served the COW campus community their homemade tacos, crunch wraps and bowls since November and have a contract with the college to continue serving through May.
Having been operating since March 2021, Mullis said being featured on campus has helped his business grow in ways he couldn't have imagine.
"When we started in November, the growth was exponential," Mullis said. "It allowed me to invest in equipment and allowed me to invest in employees and uniforms, and a trailer ... it's completely funding my whole entire food truck and it's amazing."
Although Mullis' contract ends in May, he hopes to return for the fall semester in August and has high hopes of completing his food truck in time for the summer.
Mullis also hopes to see other local businesses join him on campus to both benefit their businesses and help the college.
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This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: College of Wooster moves to outsource dining and custodial services