(Photo courtesy of Aramark) “The official logo of Aramark.”
Aramark has been our food vendor for quite some time for both catering and dining hall services. Their management team needs to address the complaints and issues students bring up each and every semester that are especially heard in our dining halls. Aramark needs to improve in several critical areas, such as dining hall hours, food diversity and standards and, lastly, being transparent.
Our dining hall hours have yet to return to their normal hours before the COVID pandemic forced us into isolation. We used to have late-night dining hours at a few places on campus before the pandemic began, but since our return to campus in the Fall 2021 semester, the dining hall hours have not come back ever since the spring semester just started. One reason for this may be that there are not enough workers to make it happen at all. Aramark has done some form of recruitment this year to gain new employees, but there are still not enough employees. They should consider posting hiring advertisements in dining halls and retail outlets and doing tabling events at campus buildings, aside from doing the same strategy every year to attract employees. Another reason could be that the dining halls are not profitable or sustainable to keep them open very late at night. While all of us understand that we have to live within our budgets, the nutrition of the students is on the line, which should be a priority over profitability and not the other way around. Students spend thousands of dollars on meal plans each year, but some of them cannot even eat as the dining hall hours do not work for them due to their busy schedules. A possible solution to this would be to extend dining hall hours to 9pm on weekdays and 8pm on weekends. If that solution is not feasible, late-night dining would only happen during certain times of the year, such as during final exam week, or the times when classes meet would have to be revised so students could get their meals at night.
Our food diversity in our dining hall is another area for improvement. If you look at our dining hall menu that is available on the web, it is mostly American cuisine. There may be a different cuisine here and there throughout the school year, but that does not happen often. Our student population is from different backgrounds, which should be reflected in the food served in our dining halls. While I get that there are supply chain issues which may be why it is not happening that often, this is not an excuse to have a lack of food diversity in our dining halls at all.
While on the subject of food, our food standards are severely lacking in our dining halls. It is not a surprise that they are highly maintained when Aramark caters for events on our campus to convince people that their food is good. When it comes to dining hall food served to students, it is entirely different. Students complain that the food is unseasoned, raw, undercooked, overcooked, and burnt, among other things. It has never gone unnoticed that these are the same complaints that students make each and every year. There is a lack of oversight, which is completely unacceptable and has to change. If dining hall employees are not going to eat the food that they make, then do not serve it to the students at all. Regardless of what time of the year it is or the weather outside, food standards must be consistent throughout the year.
Another area for improvement is transparency. When all of us came back a few weeks ago for the spring semester, I noticed that some or a lot of the items sold at Merrimack Market had gone up by almost $1. In fact, prices for our favorite food and drinks at Starbucks on campus have increased at the start of the Fall 2022 semester. It is important to be transparent about price increases so that we are all aware of them while also telling us why they are going up. Aramark should also be transparent about why several locations on campus have not reopened yet and tell students why an increase in the cost of meal plans needs to happen almost every school year.
While these are areas for improvement that university dining needs to make, they need to happen because the relationship that they have with students is not great at all and is very rocky. It is time for management to get to work on improving the dining experience for students rather than doing marketing gimmicks to keep operations afloat, as all of us in this community see right through them.