New dining contractor working to ‘re-envision’ dining at Pitt


TPN File Photo

Pitt selected Compass Group, a British multinational food service company, in March as its new single-source dining contractor beginning July 1.

By Rebecca Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt’s dining options are going to look decidedly different come fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the takeover by incoming dining contractor Compass Group. University spokesperson Pat McMahon said Pitt has worked during the summer to modify dining.

“We are working with Compass Group to re-envision dining at Pitt,” McMahon said. “This includes the launch of new dining formats and choices, additional remote ordering solutions and expanded to-go meal options for greater ease and convenience.”

Pitt selected Compass Group, a British multinational food service company, in March as its new single-source dining contractor beginning July 1. The University previously worked with Sodexo for 29 years as its contractor, with its most recent 10-year contract ending this year. This follows a string of high-risk health violations at Market Central, Pitt’s largest dining location.

Pitt’s contract, which ensures that several thousand students and employees are fed daily, consistently ranks as the largest single payment made by the University each fiscal year — it approached nearly $34 million between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019.

To modify dining options, McMahon said Compass Group is opening a number of new locations across campus, including two additions to the Cathedral Cafe — The Roost and Pom & Honey. The Roost is a chicken-based eatery, and Pom & Honey will offer customizable salads, grain bowls and wraps.

Schenley Cafe, located on the bottom floor of the William Pitt Union, will see a new restaurant, as well. True Burger will provide burgers, fries and milkshakes. McMahon said the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut locations will remain open in Schenley Cafe.

Pitt’s largest buffet-style dining locations — The Perch in Sutherland Hall and Market Central in Litchfield Towers — will also see some changes. Pitt announced in an early July email that it has renamed Market Central to The Eatery at Market Central and has added multiple food stations within the dining hall, such as Butcher and Baker, Rooted and Kale to Pitt. Butcher and Baker will offer made to order sandwiches and soups. Rooted and Kale to Pitt include vegetarian and vegan options.

McMahon said Compass Group will not remove food options that incorporate dietary restrictions or religious observances, including halal and kosher foods. An halal food station, manned by popular local halal restaurant Salem’s Market and Grill, was permanently placed in Market To Go last year. There is also a kosher food station in Market To Go.

“The overall diversification of our dining program has been a focus of our team,” McMahon said. “We continue to look for ways to not only meet the needs of our students, but also introduce foods from all areas and cultures to serve the Pitt community.”

Modification will also be made to the dining halls to help students follow social distancing guidelines. Steve Anderson, an associate dean of students and director of the Office of Residence Life, said in a town hall in early June that these two locations will look very different to returning students.

“What our returning students have known as Market and The Perch will be different as far as being able to sit down and dine,” Anderson said.

McMahon said while the University is still reviewing safety guidelines for dining halls with Pitt’s Healthcare Advisory Group, Pitt has made some final decisions. This includes emphasizing to-go options by expanding the two Quick Zone markets and putting up signage in dining areas to reinforce social distancing.

“The safety of our employees and guests is our top priority,” McMahon said. “We will remain agile, adaptable and innovative in supporting all safety standards and guidelines through new and enhanced operational methods.”

Anderson said at the town hall meeting that there will be a different layout for food and utensils in dining locations to mitigate heavy traffic. He added that more information would be released in mid-July when housing assignments for first-year students are given out.

In a further divergence from Sodexo, Pitt announced several updates to meal plan designs and prices under Compass Group. Meal plans for the fall come in three categories — unlimited, lifestyle and off-campus. First-year students are required to choose an unlimited plan which ranges from $2,050 to $2,650. The five variants of this plan differ in the number of dining dollars and the frequency — five days or seven days — students have unlimited access to Market Central or the Perch. The unlimited plans also include “meal exchanges” or a swap between a meal at Market Central or the Perch and another campus location.

All three plans include a 10% discount when dining dollars are used at on-campus non-national brand locations, and 25% of the plan’s dining dollars are reserved for use at predetermined local, off-campus merchants in the Oakland community. These locations have not been announced yet. 

Under Sodexo, there were five tiers of meal plans for resident students. The top tier included unlimited passes to eat at Market Central or the Perch and cost $2,650. The bottom tier cost $1,550.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in June that he expects tuition, as well as room and board fees, to remain flat for the 2020-21 academic year. He is now working to finalize the budget before several committees of the board of trustees review and vote in mid-July.

McMahon said students, faculty and staff can submit feedback and ideas on dining services through an input form on the University’s fall planning website.

Danielle Obisie-Orlu — the president of the Resident Student Association, which represents students living in residence halls — said her organization will continue to advocate for students and welcome student feedback on dining in the fall. RSA was part of the review committee that ultimately selected Compass Group.

“RSA has a long-standing commitment to incorporating and acting upon student feedback in the form of our advocacy framework, and that has no intention of changing,” Obisie-Orlu, a rising sophomore political science and international and area studies double major, said.

Obisie-Orlu said her predecessors helped choose Compass Group because of the company’s willingness to listen to student feedback, and she is excited to see the changes they make.

“I think the members of the committee worked hard when it came to selecting a contractor that best reflected and incorporated student feedback,” Obisie-Orlu said. “I look forward to seeing the new ideas that the Compass Group will put forth and the creative directives that they will take.”