U negotiates food service contract

The University currently uses Aramark for food service, which could have their contract extended another 10 years.

The University is in the process of renewing a 10-year contract for the management of food service facilities on campus, including residence halls, cafes, and TCF Bank Stadium. The contract, which is currently being discussed in committee and will last until at least 2018, will begin July 1 after the current contract expires June 30.

Since 1998, all food services at the University have been controlled by Aramark, which has 250,000 employees in 19 countries worldwide.

Some employees said it’s likely this time around that other vendors, including Bon Appétit, which manages at Macalester College, and Sodexho, which manages Augsburg College, could compete with Aramark for the contract, although University representatives said they are unable to comment at this time in the process.

In July 2006, the University set up an advisory committee made up of staff, students and faculty to evaluate the University’s food and beverage needs.

In March, that committee will issue its recommendations to an executive committee, which will send them to the Board of Regents for approval.

University spokesman Dan Wolter said in an e-mail that 120 students, faculty and staff have been involved in committee discussions.

Staff concerns

Linda Schwartz and John Hayden, two food service workers employed by the University, said they think Aramark’s contract will be renewed despite some controversies over workplace conditions and price increases during Aramark’s contract period.

“The message to me is that the University doesn’t think there’s a problem with Aramark because the University hasn’t stepped in,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz and Hayden said Aramark has also been involved in positive changes for the University, such as starting Panda Express in Coffman Union and adding coffee shops to University facilities.

Schwartz said she doesn’t think Aramark treats employees great, but the overall food quality and prices are good.

Schwartz said one factor that affects workplace conditions at University Dining Services is that Aramark has a high turnover in lower management.

“Some good managers have been worked into the ground,” Schwartz said.

Wolter said in the e-mail that a stable and consistent work environment is important to the University, and will continue to be a priority.

Hayden said he doesn’t think Aramark has much competition for the contract, because other companies don’t have the resources to provide food at as large and complicated an institution as the University.

Schwartz and Hayden said they don’t know if other companies would be any improvement over Aramark.

“The University will look into other avenues if they can,” Hayden said. “The University will only choose another company if they are impressed.”

Jeff Novak, a 10-year University employee at the Dunn Bros Coffee in Wilson Library, said he’s content with the way Aramark has managed the food services.

“Being Aramark, as big a corporation as they are, I think they will get the contract back,” he said. “But then again, if a new company came in, it would be interesting to see the changes they’d make too.

Student evaluations of Aramark

Max Polski, a theater junior, said the University should consider using a different food service because the hours aren’t convenient. He also said the food was unsatisfactory when he lived in a residence hall two years ago.

“The food was absolutely horrible in Middlebrook Hall at the point where I wouldn’t even want to eat,” he said. “The food was great the first two weeks, but then it went downhill.”

Matt Broberg, a senior chemical engineering major, said the University’s food has become more diverse and quality has improved, although prices are high.

“If I spent $8 to $10 elsewhere, I’d expect to get a lot more food,” he said.

Paul Johnson, a recent transfer student from St. Cloud State University and political science and history junior, said Aramark’s food is an improvement over the dining hall at St. Cloud, where Sodexho is the provider.

“Here it can get expensive, but when does college not?” he said. “There are lots of variety and other options, so it’s reasonable.”

Stephanie Kriho, a University art major, said she’s uneasy with the idea of the University selling access to the student market to an outside corporation.

“It’s a captive audience – a monopoly essentially,” she said. “You can get food at cafes that are all are same, or buy food at vending machines, but you’re limited when you’re hungry so you buy whatever you can. They put prices where they want because you will pay.”

Mica Anders, a master’s of fine arts candidate, said prices are high for everything at the University, including necessities.

“This is somebody’s lunch or dinner,” she said. “Some of us are here all day; this is what we eat.”

Student participation in the contract process

Beth Miller, a three-year student UDS employee and global studies junior, said she’s concerned the University process for contracts was too secretive.

“I don’t really like the mashing of public and private institutions in a manner that’s not visible,” she said. “I think as a public University there should be more knowledge of what’s going on.

Bethany Khan, a student representative on the food and beverage advisory committee, said she understands if students feel alienated from the process.

“I can understand why students think maybe it’s not transparent,” she said. “It’s hard because we’re making sure that the University follows the rules, and that the University is in a good place to bargain for students.”

Khan said her involvement with the advisory committee has been positive, and that students have been involved on all levels.

“I’m the only student in advisory committee but they’ve been very receptive to me,” she said. “They’re always listening to what I say as I’m advocating for students.”

UDS representatives for Aramark declined to comment for this story.