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Dining goes digital: Chartwells brings new food and technology to Boise State

Designed by Alieha Dryden | The Arbiter
This feature was collaboratively written by Andrea Teres-Martinez, editor-in-chief, and Kelby Andrew, online editor.

You’re on your way back from a three-hour evening class. Campus is quiet, lights are off, and there’s a fifteen minute walk keeping you from the dinner you’ve been thinking about all day. What do you do?

Have a robot bring it to you, of course!

Chartwells’ plans as Boise State’s new dining services vendor brings promises of food delivery robots, kiosks, dining apps and Buster Bronco’s own kitchen. Well, one named after him.

And that’s not all. The transition from Aramark to Chartwells Higher Education is set to bring new dining and technology options to campus. 

The Transition to Chartwells

On Jan. 28 2022, Boise State announced Chartwells Higher Ed as the university’s new dining services vendor for the next five years. Aramark, the university’s vendor for 16 years, was replaced as of July 1.

Aramark and Sodexo, a French food services company, also presented proposals in competition with Chartwells.

The change was announced following the condemnation of Aramark by Boise State’s student government, the Associated Students of Boise State University, in September 2021.

According to past Arbiter reporting, the staffing shortage affecting many of Boise State’s campus dining services forced Aramark to close or limit the hours at some of its restaurant locations, including SouthFork Market in Sawtooth Hall.

Reasoning for the condemnation cited the company’s inability to fulfill contractual obligations with the university. Because most meal plans required students to pay in advance, closed dining locations meant students had fewer options than what their meal plans promised.

Chartwells, having been named the dining services vendor for the University of Idaho one year prior, was already receiving criticism by the university for meal plans “falling short,” as reported by The Argonaut:

[Tweet from Haadiya Tariq, editor-in-chief of The Argonaut.]

According to the article, University of Idaho’s main issues with Chartwells stemmed from limited food variety and quality. With several dining locations closed during the fall 2021 semester, one student described having to purchase meals from vendors outside of the university, meaning that many of her meal swipes were left unspent.

“Meat’s always dry, either undercooked or overcooked, under seasoned or over seasoned,” freshman Kaelyn Perry told The Argonaut. “It’s been a consistent factor.”

However, Boise State’s outlook on Chartwells’ transition has been mostly positive.

After working with a consultant company, Boise State found Chartwells Higher Ed to be the best candidate for meeting the needs of the student body. 

This was further confirmed by ASBSU President Kenneth Huston and Vice President Sarah Smith’s visit to the University of Utah during the spring 2022 semester.

After trying the food, meeting with the Aramark-Chartwells transition team for Boise State and speaking with the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU), Kenneth declared that “we at Boise State can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and that our days of mistreatment have an expiration date,” according to previous Arbiter reporting.

ASBSU and Dining Services Committee worked closely with Chartwells to negotiate the five-year contract with Chartwells.

Dining meets technology

Arguably, Chartwells’ most ambitious project in the world of campus dining is Boise State’s rumored delivery robots.

According to Ben Southard, director of Boise State Dining, once the program launches students will be able to use an app on their smartphone to order food from any of Boise State’s dining locations.

The robots carrying the meals will be temperature-controlled while moving across campus. They are programmed to “travel to the designated delivery location” where, having received a code from the app to unlock the robot, students can grab their food.

“It’s a program we’d really like to bring to campus,” Southard wrote. “We’re in the early stages of exploring this.”

[Graphic depicting Chartwells logo being pasted on top of an Aramark truck.]
Designed by Alieha Dryden | The Arbiter

Next down from potential delivery robots is the new ordering kiosk system. Students can find the new kiosks in the Student Union Building and the Interactive Learning Center starting Aug. 22.

Another tech-savvy approach to Chartwells’ dining options sees the launch of a new dining app: the Boost Mobile app. The app allows students to pre-order food from the university’s local and national brand locations by using their Boise State Dining Dollars or other digital payment such as Google Pay, Apple Pay and debit cards.

The Dine on Campus app will also continue providing the most up-to-date information on dining location hours, menus and events, according to Southard.

“We know that our guests are accustomed to using kiosks and online ordering in other areas of their life, and we want to meet them where they are,” Southard wrote. “Incorporating technology helps us to serve the Boise State community while supporting operations during the valley’s ongoing staffing challenges.”

Chartwells’ plans for the school year don’t only include improving pre-existing dining options.

In a plan to address the university’s various “food deserts,” or areas on campus with limited food options, the company plans to place multi-food vending machines near locations such as Towers Hall and Clearwater Suites.

The machines will use Campus Dining Dollar and dispense fresh salads, sandwiches, sushi and wraps. A separate machine will heat and serve a variety of hot entrees and snacks.

“In our minds, technology equals convenience,” Southard wrote. “Students, faculty, and staff alike have busy schedules and many demands on their time … If we can ease a little stress in your day, or free up even 10 minutes to eat with a new friend, we’re successful.”

Food options on campus: what’s new and what’s staying
Although Chartwells will debut a variety of new dining options this fall, students can expect a number of campus favorites to make a return. 

Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Subway and Tree City will remain in the Student Union Building (SUB), while Boise State’s primary dining hall — the Boise River Café — will be rebranded as Buster’s Kitchen “to infuse Boise State pride into the dining spaces,” according to Southard.

The Interactive Learning Center (ILC) will continue to feature Einstein Bagels, Papa John’s and Panda Express. Local food vendors Paddles Up Poké, Guru Donuts, Poppyseed Café and Urban Fox will also remain present on campus. 

Although beloved food vendors like Moe’s Southwest Grill will be leaving Boise State, the incoming dining locations will feature food options not previously available on campus. Chartwells will introduce its new sushi vendor, Hissho Sushi, into the SUB alongside Sous Vide Kitchen, which will open in October. “Sous vide” refers to the process of vacuum-sealing food and slow-cooking it in water. Sous Vide Ghost Kitchen, a delivery-only version of Sous Vide Kitchen, will be located in Chaffee Hall. 

Additionally, Meraki Greek Street Food will be arriving in the ILC, which Southard described as “a local downtown favorite.” 

New food locations aren’t the only changes students can expect to see among campus dining. Buster’s Kitchen will also feature a number of vegetarian and vegan food options, as well as an allergen friendly station, Delicious Without. Delicious Without will prepare food without common allergens including dairy, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. 

Although the composition of on-campus dining is experiencing an overhaul, Southard reassured students that beloved aspects of the Boise State food experience will remain intact, including the familiar faces that greet students at the university’s dining halls. 

“Many of the people preparing your food today prepared it last year. Student favorites like Carol at the Grill station in Buster’s Kitchen and Norma in the Market remain fixtures of our campus community,” Southard wrote. “The Boise State Dining staff is a blend of campus veterans and new hires resulting in familiarity with the Boise State way infused with fresh ideas from off campus.”

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