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Food Services Must Be Improved

The MIT community has limited expectations of its food services, yet ARA and its liaison services at MIT have managed to fall short of those needs. Even in its attempts to improve the much flawed campus dining system, ARA does not adequately seek student opinion, continues to charge high prices, and generally serves food of poor quality. ARA has also created new problems in its reforms; in particular, the new schedule for dining halls is mind-bogglingly bad.

Meal selection, especially on weekends, is meager. Dining halls operate assuming that all MIT students eat lunch at noon, eat dinner at 6 p.m., and go to bed before Seinfeld. On a Sunday night at Lobdell, a student can only chose from the Wokery, Burger King, Cafe Features, or the salad bar before 8 p.m. On weekdays, even the Wokery is closed for dinner. Networks, Walker's Morss Hall, and the dorm dining halls are closed on weekends. And Networks offers a sharply limited lunch menu. There is only the slightest glimmer of hope: The Next House snack bar is open in the evening.

Faced with declining student willingness to purchase ARA food, food service's answer was to close unprofitable dining halls without augmenting the service in remaining cafeterias. Last year, some students were forced to take meal plan packages they did not want. This year the mandatory meal plans are gone, along with much of the food service.

Changes to the dining system, when conducted at all, begin without student input or advice. If enough students complain after a change has been made, however, things can sometimes be changed.

Many students are of the opinion that ARA charges extraordinarily high prices for bad food. If ARA is losing money, then where does it get the money for all the new signs and pretty pictures it uses to advertise the same old product?

We believe that ARA needs to improve the meager food selection. Students need a decent-sized selection of food over a fairly wide range of hours in at least one dining hall. MIT students follow irregular schedules on occasion, but they still need a good meal when they return from lab at 9 p.m.

Food services could solve some of its problems by getting student input before making decisions, rather than making decisions and waiting for students' complaints. ARA does offer comment cards at dining halls, and there is an electronic mail address specifically for this purpose, but students are usually not willing to fill out a comment card during the busy lunch hour with a tray balanced in the other hand. Instead, ARA should make it easier for students to express their opinions. Perhaps someone could survey students when they are waiting in line or waiting for food to be prepared.

In a brochure distributed on registration day, food services said that students could talk to the Undergraduate Association committee of food services. Unfortunately, the committee was dissolved a few years ago. It is disturbing both that food services did not know the committee was gone and that the UA has so little involvement in food services.

Any Course 14 major can tell you that ARA is failing because it is unwilling or unable to address the needs of the market. Until ARA acknowledges this problem and takes constructive steps to solve it, ARA will continue to sell less and less of a product that few people want. And if ARA continues its current strategy of cutting back instead of moving forward, eventually food service at MIT will disappear completely.