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Ask W&M to Fix the Food!

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Dear President Rowe and Ms. Sebring:

We, the undersigned William & Mary students and parents, request an immediate implementation of solutions to the well-known problems plaguing William & Mary’s dining services. This request stems from years of concerns and expressed complaints about the lack of sanitation in William & Mary’s dining services, the failure to follow legally required food safety practices, and the failure to provide nutritionally adequate and appetizing food choices for all students.

Parents and students have raised the alarm for several years about the dismal quality of William & Mary’s dining services. They are usually placated with stock replies but see no significant changes. We trust you will agree that students need and deserve access to safe and nutritious food. Despite this, William & Mary’s administration ignores the repeatedly voiced concerns of students, parents, and the Virginia Department of Health about the College’s substandard food services. It is high time for the Administration to address these serious concerns and either hold its foodservice contractor, Sodexo, accountable for its dismal performance, or find a new contractor immediately.

Our requests of William & Mary are as follows:

1. Immediately remedy all health code violations identified in the VA Department of Health Report of February 23, 2022.

2. Do not renew Sodexo’s contract until thorough and sustained improvements are made to address the concerns enumerated in the attached appendix.

3. Present a detailed plan for improving the quality of William & Mary’s food services in the short-term and long term. Said plan should be shared publicly with the William & Mary community and must ensure that:

a) All food is safely and properly prepared and served;

b) Food and menus offered are varied, high-quality – i.e., includes whole, unprocessed foods, and abundant fresh fruit and vegetables – and actually taste good;

c) Food options are available to satisfy special diets and allergies; and

d) The dining service staff’s customer service is addressed and improved.

While on campus, William & Mary students are captive to the dining options provided to them. Providing nutritious, palatable, safely prepared foods for students is a non-negotiable obligation for William & Mary. Indeed, it is essential for the health, well-being, and academic success of students. A high-quality diet will support their immune systems, promote sustained energy for their studies, and boost brain function. Conversely, a nutritionally deficient diet and unsafe food hinder academic success due to lost time from classes and studies as a result of acute illnesses from food reactions and, more generally, from weakened immune systems that increase vulnerability to all illnesses. A positive dining experience is also essential for students’ morale. Many other colleges and universities have successful, healthy, and popular dining services, and with the right leadership, William & Mary can too.

Sodexo’s website boasts, “We create university dining halls that routinely make top 10 lists.” [1] William & Mary must hold Sodexo to this standard and settle for no less in Sodexo’s service to the William & Mary community.

We will appreciate your prompt reply. A representative group of concerned parents stand ready to engage and work with you to create a dining environment befitting a great institution like William & Mary.

Respectfully yours,

CC: Board of Visitors


Detailed below are our well-documented complaints and concerns and recommendations for change.


1. Health violations

  • Undercooked meat, usually chicken, has been served to students on many occasions. This is unacceptable and puts students at risk of illness.
  • Students have experienced illnesses – some even leading to hospitalization – which they believe were caused by eating improperly cooked meats.
  • Lack of proper staff training and oversight of safe temperatures for meat preparation, proper allergen labeling on containers, and safe holding temperatures – as documented in the February 2022 Health Department report.
  • Overall health and safety of dining facilities are unacceptable: birds living in dining halls, ants and larvae in saltshakers, insects crawling on drink machines and in drinks, and a general lack of cleanliness.

2. Inadequate Options/Lack of Variety

  • Students with specific dietary needs and preferences (e.g., vegan, allergies) struggle to find enough nutritious options and variety and have encountered improper, and thus unsafe, food labeling.

o At Simple Servings which attempts to support students with allergies options are a) extremely limited in their variety and b) do not provide adequate caloric intake or nutrition. For example, there is no gluten-free protein option for breakfast, such as eggs. Lunch and dinner each day is a plain piece of chicken or fish, plus a plain side such as rice. Desserts are limited to a few pre-packaged cookies.

o Students report ordering a sandwich with gluten-free bread only to be served regular bread. For a student with Celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity, eating gluten-containing products is not merely an inconvenience; it would cause the student to become violently ill for days.

  • At Marketplace, small portions are sold at high prices – a swipe does not buy enough food for a full meal.
  • Across dining facilities, there are limited food selections, and the same offerings are served repeatedly. On Sundays, in particular, the same extremely limited menu is served for approximately 8 hours.
  • Only a few third-party vendors offer permanent storefronts on campus.
  • Evening operating hours at dining facilities are inadequate for athletes and students with evening classes.

3. Quality/Taste of Food

The quality of food served is subpar, ranging from merely bland at best to terrible, inedible food at worst, including multicolored, spoiled-looking ham steak, rock hard bread, tofu the texture of Styrofoam, and unidentifiable foods.

4. Customer Service/Customer Care

There is a lack of customer service in the dining halls. Students who ask for something “special” (e.g., two servings of vegetables) or who give feedback on the food have been told no, ignored, or even cursed at.


1. Collect feedback/data

  • Members of the William and Mary administration and staff should eat regularly eat at the dining halls, with no notice to the dining facilities that they are coming.
  • Elicit student feedback daily via “smiley face” kiosk technology at exits to capture a positive, negative, or neutral dining experience.
2. Research and learn from other colleges

  • William and Mary need not reinvent the wheel. Many colleges and universities, large and small, have created well-respected campus dining programs. William & Mary should reach out to these schools to learn why and how their foodservices are so successful. Alternative vendors to Sodexo should be actively considered for William & Mary.
  • Other public schools in Virginia – Virginia Tech and James Madison University – routinely appear on lists of the “best” college food. Smaller state colleges, such as Christopher Newport University, receive high marks; William & Mary cannot blame its failures on its smaller size. See for example:

3. Transparency

  • Explain the process, justification, and individual responsible for Sodexo’s high ratings in its most recent review by William & Mary.
  • Communicate in detail (not in generalities) what is being done to improve food services.
  • Create a physical board in dining areas where food complaints or violations can be posted.
  • Make public William & Mary’s contract with Sodexo and future contracts with Sodexo or other foodservice vendors.
  • Share the process and criteria for researching and finalizing the next food service contract.

4. Additional recommendations

  • Food and menus offered must be expanded to offer variety, high-quality ingredients – including whole, unprocessed foods, and abundant fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Food should taste good.
  • Add permanent stations where students know they can get a certain pizza, salad, burger (including veggie burger), etc., at any given day or time.
  • Invite additional third-party vendors to open permanent storefronts on campus.
  • Expand operating hours.
  • Maintain and adhere to the FARE-food allergy training and certification process, including keeping allergen labels on items in the dining hall, available online, and having a station where students can grab items free from the top nine allergens.
  • Create stronger oversight systems.
  • Create a comprehensive training program for dining services staff, including training on how safely to prepare allergen-free meals and provide customer service.
  • Conduct internal compliance reviews on a formal, periodic basis.
  • Request recurring, unscheduled visits by the health department to all dining facilities.

[1] (Accessed March 16, 2022).

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