Continued Losses Threaten Future of Baker Dining
By Jennifer Lane
The student Baker House Dining Committee has cut Baker dining hall losses in half since assuming management of the facility last fall, according to committee chair Albert Hsu '96.
Still, the operation is losing money, and the committee is negotiating with the Department of Housing and Food Services to discuss the dining hall's status for this semester, Hsu said.
"This could be our last term if we don't show progress," Hsu said. "Since we don't keep the [accounts] books, the main way we can show progress is by more students coming," Hsu said.
In December, Baker House residents voted for a $50 dining tax to support the dining hall. Along with the extra revenue from the tax, which will total about $17,500, committee members are working to attract more customers this semester.
Baker dining hall is currently losing about $5,000 a month, said John McNeill, associate director of food services. "The Department of Food and Housing Services cannot fund Baker dining this semester," McNeill said.
"The Bakerite tax is an interim measure to get Baker dining through the semester," McNeill said. However, the house tax by itself will not be enough to pull Baker dining through the semester, he said.
"The real problem is that not enough students eat at Baker," said Edward Cogliano, senior food service director of residence dining halls.
Last semester, Baker dining served 160 to 170 students every night, Hsu said.
Hsu said that one reason the hall is losing money is that the contract between MIT and Aramark forces Baker to purchase food from the national Aramark supplier.
"It's unreasonable to ask Baker dining to try to attack losses by taxing its own residents, while [Aramark] national makes a profit since we're buying food from their supplier," Hsu said. "If [Aramark] had its way, we'd be closed."
Attracting more customers
One way to keep the dining hall open is to attract more people, Hsu said.
Baker residents who eat at the dining hall are entitled to one free meal every two weeks, Hsu said. Hsu hopes this will bring in an extra 40 Bakerites per night.
Three-quarters of people eating at Baker Dining are Baker residents, Hsu said. Residents of other dormitories "simply don't know about Baker Dining," he said. "Many students are fixed in a routine of eating at Networks or Lobdell," he said.
"Last semester we did a lot of publicity work and postering, and weren't reaching out and getting in touch with people," Hsu said. This semester we are going to hold off on the publicity and try to work with other house governments directly, he said.
Hsu hopes to bring in another 40 people per night from other dormitories. Baker Dining is selling memberships for $30 which entitle the member to $5 meals; normally a dinner costs $6 for non-residents.
"Aramark has always wanted to close down Baker dining because it would send students to eat at the Student Center," Hsu said.
Baker dining is necessary, Hsu said, because Baker has no kitchens. "We are led to believe that our dorm is our home, and Bakerites have no other way to eat in their home," he said. The dining hall fosters a sense of community in the dormitory, he said.
Baker dining is run by students, so it can be much more responsive to student complaints and requests, Hsu said. Last year, the Baker Dining Committee conducted a survey of Baker residents to find out what students wanted.
"We've been able to address the different food needs of students this last semester," Cogliano said.
Student support of Baker Dining this term will encourage MIT to pay more attention to students and student issues, Hsu said.
Baker Dining is currently open from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Students can sign up for "late meals" at the desk and pick them up as late as 2 a.m. Every night a main meal, vegetarian meal, soups, and salad are offered.