Chartwells is failing to adequately serve the student population of Texas State, and it is time for administrators to consider whether they should renew the food service provider’s contract in the future.
While Chartwells fulfills the most basic requirements for on-campus dining, it fails to meet the full extent of student needs. Students who live on campus are required to pay for expensive meal plans and have needs such as specialized diets or allergies that are not being satisfactorily accommodated. In addition, when compared to off-campus dining and convenience stores, Chartwells venues are not reasonably priced.
Despite some feeble efforts, students with specialized diets and allergies are not currently being adequately provided for in existing dining halls. Some students have various food allergies or diet restrictions based on their religious beliefs, while other Bobcats may opt for a vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free lifestyle. Among bags of potato chips, hamburgers and pasta meals, a variety of food choices for those with alternative diets is largely absent in campus dining halls.
Since all freshmen who live on campus are required to buy meal plans ranging from $1,069 and up, Chartwells officials must increase the amount of specialized food options available and clearly label and advertise existing choices. Students relying on Chartwells for meals deserve to have peace of mind about how they are fueling their bodies, and it would only make sense that freshmen who are obligated to shell out thousands of dollars for meal plans, as well as other students who dine on campus, be provided enough options to accommodate their diets while getting the biggest bang for their buck.
In spring 2010, 92,236 meal trades went unused at the end of the semester, according to a Nov. 18, 2010 University Star article. Funds from the thousands of unused meal trades each semester go toward keeping the dining halls open for longer hours and paying labor and operational costs for Chartwells, according to the article. If this is the case, more dining halls should have longer hours of operation and at least one on-campus dining location should be open 24 hours a day for students. Instead of heading off campus for late night snacks and extra shots of espresso, students should be able to access to their already-paid-for swipes at all hours of the day.
In addition, prices at the Chartwells-run Paws N Go store near the Evans Liberal Arts Building are about 13 to 30 percent more expensive when compared to the same items at convenience stores off campus. For example, items including soda, bottled water and granola bars cost $1.69, $1.59 and $1.29 respectively at Paws N Go. The same products found at a nearby off-campus convenience store ring in cheaper at $1.49, $1.39 and $.99, respectively. Although Chartwells seeks to make a profit, gouging prices is not the way to do so. The food service provider already rakes in thousands of dollars from both used and unused meal trades each year, so the least Chartwells could do is provide more affordable and diverse on-the-go food options to students.
Despite the apparent issues with Chartwells’ operations, the Texas State University System Board of Regents authorized a contract extension four years ago, lengthening the company’s services until 2023, according to a 2010 University News Service article. For some perspective, Chartwells first began serving meals to Texas State in 1998, back when many current Bobcats were in elementary school. By the year 2023, Chartwells will have been the university’s food service provider for a quarter of a century. It is impossible to predict how much the needs of the student body will change over that amount of time, so committing to one service for such a long time is a poor choice.
Although Chartwells has made strides with a new dining mobile app, increased food options and a redesigned website with access to specific nutrition information, more must be done to accommodate students. It is only fair that Texas State officials put Chartwells’ services under a microscope when the contract is next up for renewal and reevaluate whether they can stomach more time with same food service provider.