Centralized residence and campus dining operations will come to McGill next year with the creation of a new Director of Food Services position – a move intended to provide students with access to more flexible food options.
A series of negative evaluations of McGill’s food service operations dating back to the 1980s prompted the change, according to Morton Mendelson, Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning).
“There was a sense in all of these reports that we should have integration [of food services],” he said.
McGill Food Services received a “D” ranking in The Globe and Mail’s Canadian University Report this year. Other reports have criticized the University’s decentralized approach to food services, and recommended integrating the various services into one system.
Currently, McGill has two food operations: Residences Food Services – which runs the Bishop Mountain Hall, Royal Victoria College, and Douglas dining halls, as well as small snack bars in the Burnside and McIntyre Medical buildings; and McGill Food and Dining Services, which administers the Martlet meal plan and operates numerous locations across campus. Each operation also runs a catering service.
“We have two catering services, a hodgepodge of food on campus, and a hodgepodge in residences,” Mendelson said.
Under an integrated system, students on a meal plan could use their meal card at any of the locations on campus. Presently, only students living in New Residence hall have that ability.
Bill Pageau, director of McGill Food and Dining Services, said centralization could smooth out operations.
“We think integration will bring an increase in portability and efficiency that will benefit all students,” Pageau wrote in an email to The Daily.
Residences Food Services Manager Susan Campbell agreed that the changes could bring positive changes for students.
“I think the consolidation will be a very good move,” she said.
Mendelson stressed the need for open consultation with students, and noted that the new director will hold a seat on the Student Life and Learning executive team – so that student concerns about food will be heard by higher level administrators than before.
“We are 100 per cent committed to having ongoing consultation with students…. It can’t just be window dressing,” he said.
The new director will decide what to do with McGill’s current food outlets, especially those that are run in house. According to Campbell, he or she likely won’t make any immediate changes to Residences Food Services that are obvious to students.
“There are no plans to change the meal plan right off the bat,” she said. “We have unions in place, and many different locations.”
Unlike Residences Food Service workers, however, employees at McGill Food and Dining Services’ cafeterias are not unionized.
The student-managed Architec-ture Café is also unlikely to see immediate changes despite their affiliation with McGill Food and Dining Services, according to Mendleson. He made it clear that new student-run food services will not be brought into the campus food system.
“We’re not contemplating handing [any more] locations over to students,” he said. “It is quite possible, however, to have an integration across the University food services and the SSMU cafeteria if the student groups are willing to engage in the necessary agreements to do that.”
But SSMU VP University Affairs Nadya Wilkinson said that any integration between SSMU and the University’s food services is unlikely, given the organization’s push to bring student-run food options into the building.
“We know that it’s inconvienent for people who are on [McGill meal plans], but we’re weighting that with the benefits of having more [student-run] food in the building, and that’s what won out,” she said.
Also unclear is the influence that corporate-run food services will play in the re-aligned system.
“When it comes to the question of corporate concentration, we know that students are interested in diversity, variety, quality, sustainability, and low prices. All of these goals are not always compatible,” said Pageau. “We could use a model that has all out-sourced operations, an in-house operation or a mixed of both.”
According to Mendelson, how the University proceeds with in-house and outsourced food options is a decision for the new director to make.
“The person coming in will have to evaluate and figure out what its going to look like…. We dont have plans to change anything very quickly before it is evaluated,” he said.
Both Mendelson and Pageau maintained that the University’s goal is to serve students a variety of high quality and sustainable food options.
“We want to provide the best possible service to people given the resources we have,” Mendelson said.