EDITORIAL: When it comes to quality food and 'customer service' ... WE DON'T
Since Welcome Weekend, Central Michigan University Facebook parent groups and student Twitter accounts have served up a full buffet of complaints about uncooked chicken, spoiled milk, food shortages and other problem in campus residential restaurants.
What's different this year? It's the first year of a 10-year contract with Chartwells, a company best known for serving K-12 schools. CMU chose to end its 25-year relationship with Aramark a year early in the middle of a global pandemic.
Aramark food was not great – it's the company that Michigan prisons ended its contract with in 2015 due to poor service. But Aramark was able to keep our dining halls open and supplied with food during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We genuinely thought Chartwalls could not be worse than Aramark. Yet CMU chose to partner with a company that serves up worse food than the food Michigan Department of Corrections deemed not good enough for its prisoners.
We understand two of the ongoing problems of COVID-19 are that companies are having supply chain issues and struggling to hire employees. Chartwells, President Bob Davies and Board of Trustees Chair Rich Studley have all outlined these struggles in messages to employees, parents and students – CMU's "customers."
We get it. So, what's the solution?
We don't feel like customers. We feel like students.
You want to call us customers? That's fine. We will act like customers. We have made an investment in this university. You can't keep our money and offer an inferior service – for any reason.
Davies, Studley, Chartwells – your customers are furious. Fix this or refund our money.
As a customer of a restaurant – who is forced to pay in advance, who can't have a waiter send food back to the kitchen and who can't have an inedible meal removed from our bill – don't expect empathy from us. When we show up and food stations are empty, food is either raw or overcooked and lines are understaffed, what else do you expect? You know you are going to hear about it. So stop explaining these problems and start presenting solutions.
This year, with enrollment down, there are fewer "customers" than ever. That also means fewer meals to make and fewer employees needed to work.
So why has this semester started so badly? Dining halls have always had staffing issues. Dining halls have always had the reputation for being the worst jobs on campus – poor treatment, scheduling issues and wages lower than what you could earn by working at McDonald's.
Don't blame COVID-19 for that.
Supply chain issues? It wasn't much of a problem last year. Yes, we all are aware that some food products are more difficult to source. Yes, we understand Chartwells is looking for alternate suppliers. Yet somehow restaurants and caterers around the country are making it work. What's your plan, Chartwells, for getting us through the semester?
Davies, Studley and Chartwells, your customers expect you to deliver what we paid for.
We are hangry. And we are running out of patience.
Here is some customer feedback to consider:
Immediately, CMU should offer meal exchange options with on-campus franchises set to open in October. Give students the opportunity to use a meal swipe to pay for a meal at one the franchise restaurants in the Down Under Food Court. We are willing to bet the university will ensure that the Down Under is fully stocked and employed since it brings in additional revenue by selling $9 chicken strip meals and $8 cheeseburgers.
Also, we encourage our fellow customers who are upset with a meal to "send it back." Make sure your complaints are heard by Campus Dining. Text their customer service hotline at 989-373-2300. We also encourage you to share pictures of your disappointing dining experiences on Twitter – don't forget to tag us (@CMLIFE), President Davies (@cmichprez) and Trustee Studley (@rstudley).
Since CMU has acknowledged these "customer service issues" publicly, it should consider offering at least a partial refund for poor service in September to all students with meal plans. It should offer partial refunds for as long as these problems continue. If there is a lack of employees – and a pool of unspent, budgeted student wages – feel free to use that money to pay us back for quality meals we never received.
We will acknowledge that some students haven't had any issues. If they feel they are getting their money's worth from Campus Dining, that's fine. But many more of us don't feel that way.
We have heard your explanations. We have listened to your excuses. Now show us some solutions.
We deserve to get what we paid for or we deserve our money back.
Remember, the customer is always right.