Change in dining service, community weighs in

Students+eat+in+Davison+Hall%2C+probably+talking+about+their+mixed+feelings+about+dining+this+year

Courtesy/Anna Raley

Students eat in Davison Hall, probably talking about their mixed feelings about dining this year

Flannery Moore, Crier Staff

With Rosemary Stackpole’s retirement after 16 years as Director of Dining Services, the College had a decision to make. It was an important one – after all, every single student at Saint Anselm’s finds their way to Davison Hall sooner or later. The College was faced with the dilemma of how best to continue their legacy of truly excellent dining services.  

According to Bill Furlong, VP of Finance at the College, Saint Anselm’s “explored two avenues simultaneously – hire a new Director of Dining Services and keep Dining Services in-house or outsource dining services to a third-party vendor.” In a decision-making process that included representatives from the student body, monastery, athletics, and finance, the College eventually went the latter route and selected AVI Foodsystems. 

The committee began the process by simultaneously interviewing candidates for the Director of Dining Services role and opening up the bidding for potential partnerships. The list of potential dining partners was narrowed down to two finalists and the list of potential directors was brought down to three.

While the three individuals were interviewed via Zoom, AVI Foodsystems and Parkhurst Dining were brought “to campus to provide a presentation to community stakeholders including a group of students that came to campus for the presentation,” said Furlong. Ultimately, not only was no strong candidate found to fill Rosemary Stackpole’s shoes, but the College also found itself with significant staffing shortages in dining services. This only strengthened the College’s decision to outsource to AVI Foodsystems.  

In a newsletter shared with the student body, AVI Foodsystems identified themselves as “a proud family owned company with down to earth, grass root values. Everything we do is centered on building a strong foundation with the community, faculty, staff and guests.”   

As a member of the student committee brought to campus in June for AVI’s presentation, Vice President of SGA Kevin Chrisom recalls being initially impressed by AVI’s commitment to modernization of the College’s dining services. He cited such examples as potential updates to the pub and the addition of a self checkout convenience store in the NHIOP and discussed AVI’s ability to plan positive changes while also retaining the traditions (such as the Christmas feast and gingerbread contests) that make Saint Anselm Dining what it truly is. 

While the College’s transition from independently operated dining services to AVI Foodsystems was a necessary one and promises positive things, it seems to be off to a somewhat rocky start among the student body. Concerns have been raised about topics such as allergy accommodations and the sustainability efforts of dining services.  

Arianna Raso, a sophomore who has both peanut and gluten allergies, noted that some of the allergy accommodations in Davison have changed in ways that make her less comfortable eating there. She said that while she knows the employees are doing their best, frequent instances of food items being labeled “gluten sensitive” instead of “gluten free” (two drastically different things) make her nervous because “it’s like they’re trying to cover for potential slip ups.” 

Raso added, “Something that is reassuring, though, is that all of the Dav employees who were there last year are still there and they know me” and do their best to make sure she has a good experience regardless of the changes. AVI’s commitment to retaining current dining staff was indeed a factor in the College’s decision, said Furlong. 

Respect the Nest, an SGA sub-committee that focuses on expanding sustainability efforts on the Hilltop, said, “It is no secret that the environmental impact within Davison Hall and on-campus dining as a whole could be vastly improved. We would like to see recycling bins provided in Davison hall, as well as reusable dishes and silverware to reduce single-use plastic waste.” However, they also expressed their appreciation “that AVI Food Systems has promised to improve recycling within the dining facilities on campus.”  

Respect the Nest as well as Chrisom stressed the fact that there are many factors in the current state of dining services that are simply out of AVI’s control – citing the current staffing shortage across campus, as well as supply chain disruptions. Both acknowledge that students won’t be able to experience all that AVI has to offer until AVI is once again able to operate at full capacity. Furlong stated, “the truth is we would be facing this situation regardless of the change in management and added that “It is simply not fair to blame AVI as these are market forces out of their control.” 

Chrisom and Furlong together encourage students to simply be patient during this time of transition. In a July 6 email, President Favazza expressed that “we feel confident that we will not only maintain our wonderful dining experience and traditions, but our food services will grow in new and exciting ways.” In a country still recovering from the economic and social toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, it must be understood that AVI needs time to fully come into its own. Students may have high hopes, but they have no reason to doubt that AVI will ultimately deliver.