Western Washington University will switch its campus food service provider from Aramark to Chartwells Higher Education beginning Sept. 1, the university announced June 12. Chartwells, which currently provides food to approximately 300 campuses in the U.S., has won awards for its work such as creating a fleet of small robots to deliver food to students throughout Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
Western is expecting to have two to three dozen of its own food-delivery robots rolling out over time, Leonard Jones, the executive director of University Residences, said in an email. The plan is currently under development.
The university said the cost of the new dining system is comparable to the cost of Aramark. The cost to students for the next academic year will not change, as dining rates were already approved in April by the Board of Trustees.
The switch comes after more than a decade with Aramark as the sole food provider across campus. For the last six years, students have advocated for a switch from the provider through the campaign Shred the Contract by the club WWU Students for a Better Dining System. The group condemned Aramark for profiting from prison contracts, poor food quality and alleged poor treatment of student employees.
The students advocated for a self-operated dining system — one separate from a big corporation like Aramark or Chartwells — and weighed into conversations with the university with support from the Associated Students and other student-run organizations.
“The decision to switch to Chartwells was influenced generally by student engagement, as well as the multiple layers of student involvement and input we received throughout the [Request for Proposal] process,” Jones said. “We aim to ensure that our operations align with WWU’s values of inclusion and sustainability, and having students play an active role in shaping this process was important.”
Last October, the university began to look for a new food service company. Through spring, the university sought feedback from students, staff and faculty while considering Chartwells.
“We felt we needed to know what the students wanted and hoped for in a dining experience on our campus,” Jones said. “We think we got it right in choosing Chartwells, from a sustainability, innovation and service standpoint.”
Chartwells’ strategic priorities include working with Western’s Sustainability Engagement Institute toward a sustainability and wellness program to promote a healthy campus, local producers, and students to get input on hours of operation, themed meals, specific cuisines and more.
Chartwells prioritizes providing locally sourced, sustainable, high-quality, flavorful and nutritious food to students. Already, Chartwells has connected with more than 50 farmers and artisans within 25 miles of campus and a total of 140 across Washington, Oregon and Idaho, Jones said.
A transition team will be established this month, and staffing levels are expected to remain the same or higher, securing existing jobs for student employees. Details regarding menus and concrete plans will be released in August, according to Western’s website.
A previous version of this story misattributed a quote that was said by Leonard Jones. The story was updated to reflect this change on June 12, 2023 at 7:20 p.m. Cascadia Daily News regrets this error.