The University of Wyoming would gain “no financial advantage” from outsourcing its dining services, consultant Peg Rodger told UW trustees Wednesday.
As UW administrators work to create plans for new dormitories on campus, they’re also eyeing an overhaul of dining options on campus.
The Board of Trustees asked Rodger to analyze whether the university would benefit from outsourcing all dining.
Instead, Rodger said the value of UW continuing to operate on-campus dining has a annual “benefit” of at least $3.5 million.
That benefit, trustee John McKinley noted, doesn’t include the Laramie’s financial gain from having benefited employees.
Rodger also emphasized other drawbacks privatization of dining has.
“If they can’t make money, they’ll pull the plug and walk out,” she said.
Third-party dining operators might also try to skirt negotiated terms of any contract, and Rodger said self-operated dining tends to be “more responsive to the needs and request of the campus community.”
In the coming years, UW administrators envision moving away from less all-you-can-eat style dining in favor of more a la carte options that reduce the importance of the Washakie Center.
Currently, the mandatory dining plans purchased by UW students offer a set amount of blocks, or entries to the Washakie Center. However, each unused block does not roll-over to subsequent weeks.
In a survey UW conducted in the past month, the plurality of participants — 36 percent — said they’d prefer semester-based block plans which wouldn’t have blocks expire each week.
Sean Blackburn, vice president for student affairs, said he’d like to be able to offer semester-based plans in Fall 2019. That would require a change of university regulations.
Fourteen percent of the respondents said they’d prefer a “declining balance” completely devoid of blocks.
Blackburn acknowledged plans based on cash-like credits, which UW refers to as “dining dollars,” are becoming more in-demand. Moving away from block plans, however, will take time as UW works on building up more restaurant-style options across campus.
Current plans only offer $50 in dining dollars each semester. Rodger said that limit is “not the norm.”
More than 70 percent of survey participants said they’re west of 15th Street at lunch time. Rodger said UW will need to work on dispersing dining options throughout campus. As the Science Initiative and Engineering Education and Research Building near completion, attention in campus’s northwest corner will require particular attention, Rodger said.
Blackburn said the university could also attract non-freshmen to buy meal plans with greater marketing and locations.
“This university has a habit of hiding dining facilities and make them small,” he said.
McKinley requested Wednesday for UW administrators to develop a tentative dining plan to be submitted by January.
Part of the discussion in the coming years will also address whether the Washakie Center remains in some capacity. Most of the planned new dorms — if not all — will be built west of 15th Street.
Blackburn said the Washakie Center could be repurposed for other uses. McKinley questioned whether it’s worth keeping at all if most old dorms are demolished.
“I don’t think we want to leave Washakie just for one building,” he said.