Food vendor lost contract with Capitol

by Tracy Ellingson

and Nancy Ngo

State officials have decided not to renew their contract with ARAMARK Corporation, the company University officials have considered making the school’s exclusive food service vendor. The complaints voiced by state employees regarding hours and food quality echo the concerns of University school officials and students.
For the past four years, ARAMARK has operated the State Capitol’s food services, which are used by legislators, state employees and visitors. But last week, negotiators at the Capitol selected terms with a new company to take over its food service operations when ARAMARK’s contract expires June 30.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said surveys sent out in the past year to food customers throughout the Capitol Complex revealed significant customer dissatisfaction with the food vendor’s hours, service and food quality.
“There were consistent complaints that the food is overpriced and not good,” she said.
Kahn said certain periods of the year require legislators to work late into the evening, well past the time most food service operations close.
“(ARAMARK was) totally insensitive to the needs of legislators of having food available throughout the day,” she said. “They weren’t capable of understanding what the flow of legislative business is like.”
The vendor responded to the surveys by expanding their Starbucks Coffee shop hours to 2:45 a.m. and adjusted their hours to meet more legislators’ schedules. But those changes were not enough to impress negotiators into renewing the company’s contract.
After reviewing five companies, including ARAMARK, state negotiators selected the Roseville firm Best Incorporated for the Capitol Complex food service contract.
“The decision was based on who could best meet the criteria (we set up),” said Lenora Madigan, director of Plant Management for the state. Those criteria included providing a variety of high quality food items and labeling those items with nutritional information.
Madigan said the problems that arose in the Capitol Complex wouldn’t necessarily have to happen at the University.
“It was all contractual then,” Madigan said about the inflexible hours of some food service operations at the Capitol. “So I don’t think our issues are at the University,” she said.
Nancy Arneson, the University’s human resources director for Housing and Food Services, said it is important for the school officials to examine ARAMARK’s pros and cons. Currently, the company is the only food vendor up for consideration by the University.
School officials have performed reference checks of the company and conducted satisfaction surveys on campuses that use ARAMARK. The results of those campus surveys have been mostly positive.
During forums conducted by University food services in recent months, students complained about the limited food hours University food services operated, especially in Coffman Memorial Union.
Arneson added that misunderstandings and problems between the vendor and state officials could help the University design a better contract if it selects ARAMARK as its food service provider.
“It’s real important that we know what we’re doing with ARAMARK,” Arneson said, “but it’s also real important … that we don’t focus in on a problem exclusively and end up not doing a deal because of it.”
ARAMARK officials said the food service operation at the Capitol is part of a different division within the company and should not be compared to the kind of service they would provide at the University.
The company’s food service operations are divided into five distinct, market-specific divisions, said Douglas Hubbard, the company’s Midwest Region district manager. Food service operations for colleges and universities are autonomous from the business-line operations division, which runs the Capitol Complex.
Thomas saine, the ARAMARK representative working with the University, said all of the company’s divisions operate differently, with separate management, workers and priorities.
“It’s like a different company within a company,” Saine said. “They report to a different presiden: they have different governance.”
University officials hope to select a new food vendor later this summer.