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Aramark Shows Lack of Service to Students by Firing Cogliano

Guest Column by Brian D'Amato and Albert L. Hsu

What is the purpose of a college food service? A good food service should provide a wide variety of products and satisfy its customer's needs. It should provide quality products at reasonable prices. It should make purchasing these products convenient to its customers, and it should be profitable.

Has Aramark served this purpose at MIT? From previous surveys, it seems that most students believe that Aramark has not met these goals. We agree; in general Aramark has inadequately fulfilled its mission as MlT's food service. They manage from afar, not listening to the suggestions of the students. They serve what they think the students want without asking them. Aramark is not out to serve its customers and its employees generally don't care about the MIT community.

There is one Aramark operation which has fulfilled its mission, however: the MacGregor Convenience Store. Three years ago, MlT's last four dining halls (Baker House, Next House, McCormick Hall, and MacGregor House) were scheduled to be closed for economic reasons. This would have closed all west campus dining halls; those residents who did not want to cook for themselves (or eat out every night), would have had to travel to the student center for dinner. This would have been especially trying on the residents of MacGregor, New House, and Next in the winter. However, Baker and Next survived the closings due to student uproar (students do make a difference) and pressure from the Department of Housing and Food Services.

After MacGregor dining was closed, it was converted to a convenience store run by an employee of Aramark, Eddie Cogliano. The once small store has now expanded into a ministore with everything from beverages and medicine to batteries and sandwiches. Cogliano has made this store from the ground up and it is presently one of the few Aramark controlled venues to make a profit. MacGregor has sales on the order of $10,000 a month and made a profit of $30,000 last year. What made this operation different from other Aramark operations?

The reason MacGregor makes money is because it has what students want. Cogliano is an interactive manager, and he asks the students what they want. He sells the requested products and removes slow-selling items. When he purchases products at wholesale prices, he passes discounts along to students. He has kept the store open longer hours to provide students with late night snacks. He has run a good food service.

Surprisingly, Eddie Cogliano has just been notified of his termination with Aramark, the provisions of which he must sign by Dec. 8.

Why would Aramark fire someone who fulfills the goals of a successful food service? Indeed, what are Aramark's real goals? We should examine the reasons for laying off Cogliano.

Aramark told Cogliano that it needed to terminate his employment for "financial reasons." Since Aramark is losing money, this is a legitimate reason, yet the ensuing actions make no sense. At the time Cogliano started the MacGregor store, his other responsibilities included managing Fast Eddie's Convenience Store, running Next House dining, and overseeing Baker dining. During this period his annual salary was $38,000. At the beginning of the fall term of 1995 Aramark removed Cogliano from Next House, replacing him with a manager for Next House who receives $54,000 annually for doing about 1/3 of Eddie's job.

Two weeks ago, Eddie was informed that he would be terminated with a severance agreement if he did not accept a job a Networks. He was infuriated and initially refused the Networks position - Aramark was removing him from areas he had worked hard to build. A few days later, Aramark asked him if he had signed the severance agreement, and he had not. Aramark then offered him two extra weeks' pay if he signed immediately. If Aramark could not afford Cogliano's salary, how could they throw money around in this fashion? Why the overwhelming need to fire Cogliano?

Cogliano spoke to Associate Director of Food Services John T. McNeill, who suggested that Cogliano take the Networks position, saying he knew Cogliano did a good job. But when he then requested the Networks job, Cogliano was informed that the position had already been filled. This was impossible: None of the employees in Networks have changed positions. There was no position available - Aramark lied. Hardly an appropriate way to thank someone who built MacGregor from the ground up, managed the renovation and re-opening of the Pritchett operation in Walker Memorial, and helped students in Baker House create a business plan to preserve their dining hall. Aramark wanted Eddie terminated, and in our estimation it appears personal.

Is Aramark successfully fulfilling the goals of a food service? Aramark incurred a loss of $8 million over nine years, that was completely covered by MIT through tuition dollars. Today, MIT no longer pays Aramark's losses; we applaud the administrators for this change. However should a single food service company really monopolize MIT food service? Isn't it time for competition?