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Dining Process Must Move to Bidding

The dining review working group recently released its interim report on the progress it has made thus far examining MIT's dining situation. The report, which details input from numerous meetings and focus groups the working group has organized, recounts many of the opinions that anyone even vaguely familiar with dining services at MITcould have said in the space of 20 minutes, in contrast to the more than half year the working group has taken to present us with these conclusions.

While the group's extensive efforts to consult far and wide in determining the long-term framework of MIT's food services are laudable, the group has been deplorably slow in making progress. It should move faster to discuss the real issues involved - namely expanded services and competition - so it can complete its work. The bidding process must begin as soon as possible to ensure that MIT's future dining services provider (or providers) will meet these needs.

Not surprisingly, most of the comments that the working group received zeroed in on problems that students have been complaining about for years about Aramark, MIT's current dining services provider. Many people say Aramark has been unresponsive to complaints, lacks variety in its food options (a problem Aramark began addressing recently), charges too much for the food it serves, and has limited and inconvenient hours.

Students want to be able to use their MIT Cards at local non-MIT places like LaVerde's Market, they want eateries all around campus, and they want competition. These are all demands that Aramark has not delivered on. If Aramark - or any other potential bidder - is not willing to accommodate these demands under a new contract, MIT should refuse the company. Judging by its record, Aramark should not be high on the list of candidates.

The decision this fall to extend Aramark's five-year contract for a second time (through the 1997-98 school year) was a mistake, but one necessitated by the failure of the Department of Housing and Food Services to move forward in a timely manner with the food services examination that the working group is now pursuing. If HFS knew it wanted to make such an extensive study, it should have planned for it several years ago rather than force the extension of a contract for a very unpopular company for two extra years.

HFS is not even close to the point of soliciting bids; the process won't start until October. Even at this far too belated stage, we hope that the working group and HFS can keep to the present schedule so that starting the 1998-99 school year MIT can have something better than an unresponsive food services monopoly.