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ARA - Clean up or get out

ARA: Clean up

or get out

ARA's incompetence and irresponsibility in handling students' food needs were never more flagrant than in the past week.

Dormitory cafeterias are closed for all of Independent Activities Period. Walker Memorial's dining services close at 2 pm, and ARA originally scheduled Lobdell Court to be open only for breakfast and lunch. For several thousand students, dinner was available only at Networks, the relatively small restaurant in the Student Center.

ARA managers quickly realized their mistake when confronted with half-hour lines stretching outside Networks. Last week, they decided to keep Lobdell open until 7 pm. Students now face a choice between inexpensive, quick food that is mediocre at best and slightly better but much more expensive food with an extensive wait.

A trip to Networks for dinner this week confirmed that the facility is grossly inadequate: The wait at the single open register was 15 minutes, after which the kitchen took another 55 minutes to prepare a piece of broiled scrod. This is unacceptable at any restaurant, but especially at one which stresses speedy service. During the wait, Networks' dining area was filled with smoke -- not from customers' cigarettes, but from a grill lacking proper ventilation. The final product, after a 70-minute wait, smelled rancid. Hardly a product worth $6.95.

No single person at Networks is to blame for this failure. Rather, this experience reflects ARA's consistently poor performance. Food shortages are frequent. Shoddy service is widespread. The company has resorted to importing third-party prepackaged products from Pizza Hut, Dunkin' Donuts and other companies to satisfy customers who cannot stomach the service's own food. MIT could do ARA's job better and more cheaply by renting space to these food chains instead of forcing students to purchase exorbitant ARA meal plans for the same service.

A food service unable to satisfy students with its own cuisine and unwilling to commit the resources necessary to serve the MIT community adequately must not be allowed to monopolize the million-dollar market MIT offers. ARA has ceased to be a credible entity at MIT. The Institute has a responsibility to provide palatable food at acceptable prices.