Cornering the Marketplace
Written by Jack Powers|
September 12, 2014
The College of William and Mary designated the Marketplace a “retail” dining location — rather than a “residential” location requiring a meal swipe — before the selection of Sodexo USA as the College’s new dining provider in February. The Marketplace’s recent shift back to a meal-swipe location may affect Sodexo’s projected $449,704 revenue in Dining Dollars.
The Request for Proposal sent out by the College Aug. 5, 2013 lists the Commons and the Sadler Center as the only residential campus dining options in the Dining Services’ “desired coverage of services.” The Marketplace is listed as a retail dining area, meaning that the location would take Dining Dollars, rather than meal swipes. All three food service companies who bid on the contract last fall (Sodexo, Aramark and Chartwells/Thompson) treated the Marketplace as retail dining, rather than residential dining, in their proposals.
“Based on student feedback, we wanted to strengthen the retail program on campus that was part of the meal plans,” Director of Auxiliary Services Cindy Glavas said in an email. “This led to the Marketplace becoming a retail location in the RFP and adding dining dollars to each meal plan to provide more flexibility and value to the retail program for students.”
Sodexo’s transformation of Marketplace from a residential dining hall that primarily took meal swipes to one that exclusively accepted Dining Dollars or outside forms of payment was done in the context of a larger shift within dining services toward the increased use of Dining Dollars, formerly known as “Flex.” Two food trucks, each exclusively accepting Dining Dollars, were added to campus dining options, and the Tribe Square restaurants joined them. The share of Dining Dollars in each meal plan offered in Fall 2014 increased by at least 50 percent from the 2013-14 meal plan options. Expanded meal options for students are the result of Campus Dining’s new focus on Dining Dollars. The move offers a potential boon in dining services’ bottom line.
In the financial proposal included in the company’s initial bid, Sodexo projected total Dining Dollar sales of $2,624,523 and retail cash sales of $1,319,688 for the 2014-15 school year. Combined, these two projected totals compose roughly one quarter of the total projected revenue for the year. The centerpiece of this growth is the Marketplace, projected to bring in $449,704 in Dining Dollars and $227,956 in retail cash sales.
The share of Dining Dollars increased by at least 50 percent for each meal plan from last semester to this semester. However, this shift in the Marketplace’s function was poorly received by the student body, prompting action from the administration.
“It’s fair to say we underestimated the impact and response,” Glavas said. “But it’s also important to remember that all of us (Sodexo, Dining Services, Auxiliary Services) want to do what’s best for our campus community. When it became clear this was an issue for students, we acted quickly to solve the problem.”
It is unclear how the return of meal swipes to the Marketplace may affect these proposals and the 12 percent retail dining revenue given to the College. The return of meal swipes to the Marketplace increases the residential dining options on campus, diverting swipes away from the two primary residential dining halls — the Sadler Center and the Commons — without adding to the total number of meal plans purchased by students. The switch limits Sodexo’s drive to diversify the campus’s dining options, as well as its sources of profit from the contract.
Sodexo’s original intentions for the Marketplace, as outlined in their bid to the College, included a “full-service restaurant” named TJ’s. However, the restaurant was later relocated to the Commons as the recently-opened Chancellor’s Bistro. The Marketplace underwent renovations over the summer to improve the quality of food production there, as well as to update its design and concept. According to a capital projects spreadsheet from dining services, $1,950,000 was allocated toward the Marketplace and the Commons for summer construction. Additionally, $1,200,000 of the $5,300,000 allocated toward dining services capital projects for the fiscal year 2015, which began after the end of the spring semester, was given to the Marketplace.
“The College has invested approximately $700,000 to date in design, construction, utilities, equipment and fixtures,” Glavas said.
After the reimplementation of meal swipes at the Marketplace, 500 students used their meal swipes at the Marketplace Friday.
Glavas said that she hopes changing the Marketplace back to a meal-swipe option will result in traffic comparable to that of the Sadler Center dining area and the Commons dining hall.