By Leah Wilkinson
Dining spaces and schedules at Bellarmine will look a little different this semester, as the university is taking steps to keep students safe due to the coronavirus.
In addition to the “grab and go” option available at all dining spaces, Bellarmine Dean of Students Dr. Sean McGreevey said there will be additional precautions in place.
McGreevey said there will be reduced seating, floor markings and alternative traffic flow in the University Dining Hall.
Although there won’t be self-serve options, dishes will still be customizable from afar and all-you-can-eat.
In addition to new management and marketing, Bellarmine has designed a new meal schedule, which also allows for students to use meal swipes on their ID cards at locations other than UDH, such as Palio. This will allow for social distancing and flexibility for students who may find the dining hall inconvenient.
The new dining schedule can be found at the bottom of this article.
“I think people were using their flex dollars because there weren’t any other options, and now there’s an option from 7:15 in the morning until Palio closes at either midnight, 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock in the morning,” McGreevey said.
The new swipe options will also help students conserve their flex dollars, which many students spend before the end of the semester.
“I’ve already heard some very positive comments about the swiping options on campus,” said Katrina Powell, Student Government Association (SGA) food service committee chair. “I think that has been something people have wanted for a long time and I’m glad they have more flexibility now.”
SGA President Trey Grevious said he hopes the addition of meal swipe options at areas such as Cafe Ogle, which did not previously offer the option, will give students a better balance when it comes to their flex dollars.
“I feel like a lot of people either spend their flex too quickly or they have a lot left over, so I feel like this is kind of giving them the best of both worlds,” he said.
McGreevey agreed with Grevious, saying he believes the option for more swipes will free up students’ time between classes and other commitments, as convenience is now at the forefront.
“I felt like people were really dependent on those flex dollars because of their schedules, and I think this is just a complete game changer for the meal plan with the swipes,” McGreevey said.
McGreevey credited the recent request for proposal (RFP) in making the dining changes students have wanted.
“Last fall, we put a note out there in the world that said ‘We’re gonna evaluate our dining program and we’re interested in talking with vendors about delivering on that program,’” McGreevey said. “We had a pretty extensive process.”
Powell was also involved in the RFP process.
The RFP committee included students and other members of the Bellarmine community.
“We looked at a bunch of offers and [ultimately chose] Sodexo,” Powell said. “They gave us a really good proposal on what they wanted to change and improve on campus.”
Although Sodexo is not new to Bellarmine, the hope is that a few new options will provide change students want to see.
Grevious said the RFP allowed many voices to be heard.
“I think they’re gonna like the new changes [Bellarmine has] made as far as the meal plan options because I think that gives them a lot more variety, and also I think the biggest struggle a lot of people face when it comes to dining is running out of flex before the end of the semester.”
McGreevey said Sodexo’s opportunity for the most options at the best price was appealing because money was a factor not only for the university’s budget but also for students’ budgets.
“I would say the reason Sodexo emerged is they came to the table saying they could deliver on everything students wanted, and they could get the best price,” he said.
Michael Baux, Bellarmine’s new Sodexo general manager, will also give the dining hall a fresh start this school year.
“I know some students may be a little uneasy that we went back with Sodexo, but I think depending on the options we had and depending on the COVID circumstances, and the fact that we have a really good [general manager] in here, I think we made the right choice,” Grevious said.
McGreevey also said he has confidence in the new Sodexo leadership.
“I’m excited about our partnership and moving forward,” McGreevey said.
Baux previously worked for Sodexo at the University of Pittsburgh and in the hospital industry.
“I helped with the hiring process of [Baux], which was really fun,” Powell said. “I think he is super positive and cares a lot about the student opinion and experience.”
Baux said he catered to lots of different diets while working in the hospital industry.
“It [was] quite a bit,” he said.
With his variety of experience, Powell said she’s confident in Baux’s ability to meet the needs of the campus community.
“I can’t wait to see how he tells [Bellarmine’s] dining story,” she said.
McGreevey said the Sodexo team has been serving students since early July, providing three meals a day for the 100 students in the Governor’s Scholars Program, which was on campus for a month.
McGreevey said he believes Sodexo’s fresh start will also come in the form of additional personnel.
“I think we weren’t telling the story enough about what was happening in the dining hall,” McGreevey said. “One of the things we put in the RFP is that we wanted a full-time marketing person from Sodexo.”
That new marketing person is Megan Briegel, who previously worked for Sodexo at St. Mary’s College.
Briegel has revamped the Bellarmine Grub Instagram account, as well as the dining services website, in hopes of providing more internal communications for those in the Bellarmine community who utilize those services.
Bellarmine is also rolling out the Bite+ app, which will allow students to order meals and avoid standing in line, as well as view nutrition facts such as ingredients. The Bite+ app is expected to be ready for students’ use in the coming days.
McGreevey said it’s all about making sure students know what’s happening in the dining hall and are aware of innovations the employees are delivering.
As far as personnel goes, McGreevey said many of the same faces are returning to campus this year, including Miss Sharon, who always puts a smile on students’ faces the minute they step through the UDH doors.
Additionally, McGreevey said the university was able to retain other Sodexo staff members many students are used to seeing at dining spaces throughout campus.
Baux said Sodexo also added a few staff members to better accommodate the needs of the Bellarmine community.
“For Palio, because we’re adding another meal period for lunch, we had to add labor there,” Baux said.
New menu items are also in the works for Palio.
“I think it’s more about spreading the team out to better assist the new needs of our community, and I feel like because the flow is going to be a little different on the front end, it gives us a little bit of flexibility for the needs of our staff and the stations and hours and varieties we’re offering,” Baux said.
With so many on-campus changes that could leave students feeling overwhelmed, the hope is that students will find a sense of comfort and safety when grabbing meals.