Aramark Proposes New Dining OptionsBy Shawdee Eshghi
Four small focus groups were conducted at the Baker House and Next House dormitories this week to present the opportunity for students to discuss with National representatives from Aramark on what can be done to improve food service at MIT.
"Our purpose was to figure out what kinds of products and services would best meet the needs of west campus," said Aramark's National Marketing Director for Campus Dining Services R. Douglas Martinides, who led the focus group discussions.
The main emphasis of the focus groups was how to improve Baker Dining so that it could attract more people. Baker Dining was revitalized two years ago by Baker residents who feared that their dining hall would close.
The issue of the Next House dining hall was not really touched. "We are pretty secure that the dining hall will not be shut down. We're just too far from the rest of the campus," said Next House Social Chair Brian A. D'Amato '96.
Ideas such as selling prepared food which can be reheated later, adding a TV to the Baker Dining Hall,, and creating a central food location were brought up by Martinides.
Invitations were sent to students who had complained to Aramark General Manager Rob McBurney last term about the firing of employee Eddie Cogliano.
Baker dining options discussed
"I can honestly say that I have no idea what Aramark's plans are for the Baker or the rest of west campus," Martinides said. "I'm just here to ask your ideas and get your input."
"This campus is probably the purest competitive environment for us, as nothing is mandatory," Martinides said. "We really want what is best for you, the students."
The small number of students who went to the focus groups were bombarded with new ideas from Martinides. Student reaction to the new ideas was mixed.
The idea of the "home-replacement" foods that could be bought and assembled or reheated later appealed to students who had late classes or athletic practices. But others were not as enthusiastic, not wanting to have to clean up after themselves.
Martinides brought up a number of options for Baker Dining, such as adding music or a TV, bringing in franchises, extending the hours, expanding the Baker Snack Bar, and exploring dining plan options. One of these was the "country club plan," where residents of Baker would have the cost of dining added on to their house bills. The added cost could pay for meals in addition to a refurbished dining hall.
"Bakerites would have to pay for membership, and of course, membership has its privileges," said Martinides.
Students immediately had reservations to such a plan, citing that not all Bakerites use the dining facilities. "It would be tough to make it appeal to everyone in Baker," said Baker President Catherine D. Conley '96.
On the issue of the food itself, Martinides stressed that the Aramark hires only professional chefs who quite frequently come from major hotels and restaurants.
These chefs have large repertories and are open to suggestion, Martinides said. "It doesn't just have to be cafeteria food."
Martinides also brought up some options that would change food service at MIT on a larger scale. One such idea was to expand the "tie-ins" such as Domino's Pizza.
Central location proposed
Martinides also mentioned consolidating west campus food services at a central location. The idea would bring together a snack bar and a convenience store in addition to a dining hall.
Consolidation would allow for extended hours, said Martinides. Students responded negatively, saying that having the dining hall in the dorm was very convenient.
"In the past four years Baker Dining has been such a positive experience for me, and not really because of the food," said Baker resident Julie E. Goodman '96. "I have had such quality time with my friends there."
"The dining hall is a part of the culture here at Baker," said one Baker freshman.
The participants in the focus groups seemed enthusiastic, but hesitant about Aramark's interest. "They listened to what we had to say and gave the impression that they actually cared, so now were just waiting to see what becomes of it," said Baker Dining Committee Chair Albert L. Hsu '96.