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Aramark Price Increase Due to Labor Agreement

By Rima Arnaout
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

Prices at Aramark-run dining facilities across campus rose at the beginning of the term in response to the company’s new wage agreement with its union workers.

“Aramark has a labor agreement which is new this year,” said Richard D. Berlin III, director of campus dining. The new agreement calls for a fixed increase in wages each year. “Labor is about 40 to 50 percent of [the cost of] what you sell,” with inflation as a secondary factor.

Cost on food items from beverages to sandwiches rose five to 30 cents this semester, according to Aramark price lists. Price lists indicate that a turkey sandwich at Walker Memorial, for example, once cost $3.85, but now costs $4.15.

Berlin said that he rejected most of Aramark’s proposed increases. Aramark’s point of view on pricing, he said, is “what the market will bear and still be fair.” But Berlin doesn’t “want Aramark to be more expensive in the marketplace... Pricing is protective of student purchasing power wherever possible.”

“The most popular items I try to keep down in terms of pricing; an example is a chicken caesar” wrap, Berlin said.

Berlin also tried to ensure consistency of price across campus dining locations. “A 16 oz. Coke should be the same at every dining location” on campus.

MIT’s pricing is difficult to compare to that at other universities because the Institute has a declining balance meal plan rather than the traditional mandatory meal plan used at other schools, Berlin said.

When making pricing decisions, Berlin “didn’t look at other schools because when you’re a consumer, you look locally.” He explained that if an MIT student wanted to buy a cup of coffee, for example, that student would be interested in how MIT prices compare to those at Au Bon Pain or a Central Square coffee shop rather than to prices at another school.

The pricing increases are apparently not a result of Aramark’s management of MIT dining services. “Whether you have a union or not, you always have to give people the cost-of-living increase,” Berlin said.

MIT is not considering moving to a mandatory meal plan program to defray price increases, Berlin said. “Based on the schedule, the academic rigor of MIT, and the lifestyle here, a traditional meal plan doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Berlin said.

Adjustments in campus dining prices are generally reviewed once a year.

System changes coming soon

“I think that there’s been frustration that Aramark is here as the only contractor,” Berlin said. He hopes that frustration at the recent price increases and at Aramark in general won’t eclipse the changes that will be coming to the dining system in coming months.

“Pricing is never really an exact science because the market changes and the popular items change, and I’ll be trying to bring in new items” to the dining system. Berlin said.

One of the changes to the dining system will be the creation of the Campus Dining Board in the coming months. The group, called for in the campus dining report, will consist of about 15 to 20 people, mostly undergrads and graduate students.

“I’m looking at [the Dining Board idea] more as an undergrad and graduate student committee, more on the front lines” of dining at MIT, Berlin said. “I want to take what students are saying to Aramark in a way that they can do something with it,” he said. The Dining Board will also try out new foods and give feedback to MIT dining before they are introduced.