Three finalists remain in Yale University Dining Services’ search for a new executive director, YUDS officials told the News this week.

The final three candidates will visit campus next Thursday and Friday for a round of meetings with staff, managers and several students, Director of Residential Operations Charles Bennett said. YUDS officials declined to release the names of the finalists.

The chosen candidate will replace outgoing executive director Don McQuarrie, an Aramark employee who plans to leave YUDS after five years on the job when his successor takes over.

This February, Yale will end its 10-year relationship with Aramark, the corporate food service provider that runs Yale’s dining halls. The University anticipated McQuarrie’s exit when it decided to split with the company because of his strong ties to Aramark, Associate Vice President for Student Financial and Administrative Services Ernest Huff said.

The University has teamed up with Philadelphia-based executive search firm Opus Search Partners to run the selection process. A pool that began with 13 names has been pared down over the course of the year to six, and now to three.

McQuarrie and officials from Opus Search Partners declined to comment.

YUDS officials said they are looking for someone with “experience running a multi-unit food service operation” and with a passion for sustainable food, Bennett said.

The Yale Sustainable Food Project has been involved in the search process from the beginning, YSFP Director Josh Viertel said.

“This transition and this search offers a phenomenal opportunity for Yale to build a dining services organization that considers sustainability a core value,” Viertel said in an e-mail.

YUDS officials said they have not yet determined when the search will conclude. Huff said he hopes to select a finalist by the spring in order to have time to prepare that person for the 2008-2009 school year.

If all goes smoothly, students should see “no significant changes” in their day-to-day dining experience at Yale, Bennett said. YUDS officials said purchasing agreements have already been worked out between the University and food vendors, so menus will not be impacted by the switch.

But a new executive director would bring changes at the top, YUDS Spokeswoman Karen Dougherty said. McQuarrie, for example, implemented a new policy requiring at least two dining hall managers per residential dining facility. Dougherty also said past directors have modified the declared values of YUDS and eliminated several director-level staff positions.

“[The executive director] is the goal-setter,” Dougherty said. “He makes the policy decision, and then everybody underneath [him] lines up to make sure we’re supporting that objective.”