University samples food services

by Nancy Ngo

The eight-member food service evaluation team has unanimously voted to recommend that the University negotiate a partnership contract with ARAMARK Corporation.
As a result, an administrative presentation today before the University Vice President’s Executive Council, which will likely follow the team’s recommendation, will focus on the corporation, in addition to why the University needs a private food partner.
“At this point, the committee has made a recommendation, and hopefully we can analyze why they made the choice,” said McKinley Boston, vice president for student development and athletics. “That decision has to be ratified with the University administration.”
The council will recommend the University’s best course of action to University President Nils Hasselmo.
Ron Campbell, associate vice president for Housing and Food Services, will give today’s presentation.
University administrators have said they are looking for an alternative to improve the quality and control of the school’s food service operations, which offer vending, catering, dining and retailing services.
Pennsylvania-based ARAMARK provides a variety of services nationally and internationally. In the past, the company has provided dining and nutrition services to colleges and schools, as well as non-food operations such as uniform and maintenance services.
A partnership with the corporation would mean the largest partnership with a vendor by any university or college in the nation.
ARAMARK has already had a master private contract with Bemidji, Mankato, Winona and St. Cloud State universities in Minnesota for 31 years. The University seeks a partnership rather than full privatization — which would involve the food vendor hiring personnel, keeping a portion of retail profits and managing facilities. Ed Devoid, food service director at St. Cloud State University, said ARAMARK’s existence on that campus falls in line with the University’s expectations of the organization.
“It’s been more of a partnership. You couldn’t tell who’s running it,” Devoid said. “We’d do the same thing if we were self-operating.”
St. Cloud State University food cafeterias have national brands including Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. He said that although Pepsi products are placed in these campus restaurants, he has the option of using other beverage products in these venues.
If the option of choosing a beverage supplier in restaurants is included in a partnership with ARAMARK, University contract commitments to use only Coca-Cola would not hinder the use of Pepsi-based restaurants.
No specifics have been released about what restaurants or options would be included in a partnership between ARAMARK and the University because negotiations still need to be completed. However, settling on the food vendor has eased some concerns for evaluation team members.
“I was pretty leery about making a decision at all,” said Runninghorse Livingston, student representative on the food evaluation team. He said he is now excited about what a large company has to offer. “They’re just friendly towards students,” he said.
Livingston said that the evaluating team as a whole had one main goal in mind: making, and not losing, money. He said that because financial issues were among the top concerns, it seems that ARAMARK was better than its competition, PFM:Compass.
Though the evaluation team has made its recommendation, the food partnership process is far from over.
“We’re at best half way through the process,” said Boston.
However, Sue Mauren, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 320 Union, said she still has concerns about a private partnership.
“I still believe that the food service work can be done in-house and that I think it’s unfortunate that the University is taking this route,” she said. “But I expect that the University and ARAMARK should live up their request proposal to retain current University employees at the same wages and benefits.”
After today’s presentation, the executive council will make its recommendation to Hasselmo, and officials will select a team to negotiate the contract with ARAMARK, said Nancy Arneson, human resources director for Housing and Food Services.
Those administrators working with both financial and academic affairs would be included in discussions, she said.