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Re-Evaluate AVI's Dining Service Contract at Siena College

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We, the student body of Siena College, petition the administration at Siena to re-evaluate the dining service contract that was recently awarded to AVI Foodsystems Inc. Although we are not necessarily asking for the contract to be terminated, we do feel as if it has reached the point where it needs to be considered more seriously. This petition is not intended to directly attack AVI's policies, staff, or operating procedures, but aims to shine light on the widespread dissatisfaction. AVI has continuously failed to deliver on promises, and neglects student feedback and concerns.

 

The concerns in this petition affect the entire campus community. A good faith effort was made to ensure all information in this petition is accurate and verifiable.

- Background -

In early 2015 Siena College released a RFP (request for proposal) to seek bids on the dining service contract. Sodexo, the provider at Siena for over 30 years, submitted a bid to renew the contract. And while there were several other major dining companies that submitted bids as well, pne company, was unheard of; AVI, a small, family owned company in Ohio. AVI’s bid was attractive, promising extraordinary new dining programs featuring fresh foods and recipes made from scratch.

On Wednesday, March 25, 2015, Siena College announced that AVI had been selected as the new dining service provider. On June 1st Sodexo halted operations on campus after 30 years of service, and AVI officially assumed responsibility. The standards of dining services at Siena have not been at the same level ever since. 

***A recent survey conducted by the Student Senate, and publicly released to the college community, indicated that of the 747 respondents, 52% were dissatisfied by AVI's service. A mere 2.6% of respondents were "very satisfied" by AVI's service.***

 

- The Problem -

AVI has limited experience working in higher education food service, serving only 13 institutions nationwide, many of which are smaller or similar in size to Siena. Within days of securing the bid they began an aggressive advertising campaign on campus promoting the exciting new options they would be bringing to campus. Students were particularly impressed with what they had to offer, and the campus was alive with chatter and excitement about their arrival.

However, in September students would arrive back to campus and become immediately and visibly disappointed by the level of service AVI was providing. Food was often unavailable at locations, and, a system of pre-portioning food was in place in the dining hall, although that was quickly addressed in late September. Communication during the transition was non-existent. Dining locations were not operating at the times designated by the schedule; often opening several hours late, closing several hours early, or simply not opening at all. After weeks of constant revisions to the hours it reached the point where even AVI staff and management were uncertain what hours locations were open. Needless to say, students were discouraged by confusing and seemingly random operating hours, and were frustrated by the unreliable availability and lack of approachable management.

The inconvenient hours took a toll on a number of groups of students like athletes who have early morning practice, students with dietary restrictions, and those who are up late each night. 

AVI continued their rocky start by opting in September to close Lonnstrom Dining Hall on Sunday’s, forcing all 2,700 residential students to converge on the already backlogged Casey’s and Starbucks. A group of students approached the AVI management team and Siena administration, concerned that they didn't recognize an issue with this. Sources indicate that AVI’s response was simply “there’s no way we could have predicted such volume.

Despite securing the contract nearly 6 months earlier in March, and officially beginning operations 3 months earlier in June, throughout the Fall '15 semester AVI continued to cite a “learning curve that was to be expected” as a new company on campus. This learning curve was heightened by AVI’s inability to retain Sodexo employees who were already familiar with operating procedures at the college. In fact, it's estimated that less than 20% of the Sodexo staff were retained by AVI.

AVI was therefore tasked with training a large number of brand new staff. Lack of thorough and consistent training was evident, particularly in Casey’s and the newly created Starbucks where it was often impossible to get a drink order created properly the first time. This was also seen in a number of documented food safety incidents where students received under-cooked meat items.

 

As of the writing of this petition, AVI has been officially operating on campus for 8 months and 11 days, or 256 days.

AVI is no longer "NEW" to campus.

 

Disappointingly, AVI failed to uphold the one major thing they promised; fresh foods made from scratch on campus daily. Unable to support the number of students eating at their dining venues each day, AVI quickly resorted to purchasing from off-campus vendors. Muffins, cookies, and other pastries served in Casey’s were supposed to be baked on campus, but rather, were purchased from Rockland Bakery, a commercial bakery about two hours south of Siena, and were shipped up every few days. Other food products, such as chicken tenders which were supposed to be made from hand, were simply purchased frozen from Sysco, the same food distributor previously used by Sodexo.

Rather, AVI focused their efforts on obscure details, like making their own fresh peanut butter on-site. Comically, AVI management once stated that their peanut butter is safe for those with peanut allergies. While many important details fell by the wayside, AVI continued to focus their efforts on random things, like making their own pasta noodles with an expensive machine imported from Italy.

Furthermore, it was under Sodexo’s time at Siena that Siena became the first ever Catholic college in the world to attain Fair Trade status, and only the 3rd college in the nation. [comment removed by request]

The food truck was one of the main highlights of their bid and one of the items students were most excited about. In late August the campus received an emergency SienaAlert message indicating there was a gas leak near the loading dock of Lonnstrom Hall. The situation was resolved without incident, but in the following days it came to light that the incident was caused by a propane valve on the food truck. In September, students were disappointed to find that the food truck was not operating, and throughout the first weeks of September the truck was frequently being serviced for propane related issues. Finally, on Monday, October 12th, nearly midway through the semester, the truck began operation, only to be taken out of service, often without notice, for propane related issues on October 20th, October 22nd, November 3rd, November 13th, and several other dates. Rather than pro-actively notifying the campus of service disruptions, AVI simply hoped nobody would notice it's absence. The concern regarding the frequent issues with propane would later be resolved by receiving a safety clearance from the Town of Colonie Fire Marshall.

 

- Other concerns -

  • As part of their contract bid AVI promised a gelato station in Lonnstrom. This is yet to come to fruition.
  • AVI has recently stopped serving breakfast in Massry. This means that Massry now serves only 4 meals a week (dinner Monday-Thursday) In the cold of the winter that now means that resident's living in Synder Hall or the Townhouses must walk down campus for food. 
  • AVI has excluded many of those with dietary restrictions, and has had many issues with cross-contamination of allergens. There have been several complaints regarding the effectiveness of the new dietitian AVI has brought to campus. 
  • The cost of on-campus catering has skyrocketed during AVI's time at Siena, in some instances coming in at over 100% the cost of Sodexo's catering. This significant rise has made it nearly impossible for campus organizations and clubs to utilize their catering services. 
  • UPDATE (2/12) AVI has now cut the hours at Casey's; now closing at midnight on the weekends instead of 1:30AM

 AVI is saving money on labor costs by cutting the operating hours of locations and consistently under-staffing during peak hours. Unfortunately, they are doing so at the expense of the student body. 

These represent only a small portion of the issues. It would be impossible to list them all. Beyond these, many issues have already been resolved, but they never should have arose in the first place. 

The Siena community deserves better. These issues need to be addressed, and AVI needs to be more receptive to feedback. We hope this petition will shine some light on the widespread concern. 

 

In the meantime, there are people who can fix this:

John Coker, Vice President of Marketing: jcoker@avifoodsystems.com

Amanda Fishbaugh, Regional Marketing Manager: afishbaugh@avifoodsystems.com

Lisa Sidorakis, District ManagerL lsidorakis@avifoodsystems.com

Larry Lowe, Director of Residential Dining at Siena College: llowe@avifoodsystems.com 



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