Aramark food contract extended for another year

Students hoping for a new food vendor at the UAA will have to wait a bit longer.

Aramark, the company that currently holds a contract with UAA to provide dining services on campus, has been granted an extension of its service agreement, which was previously set to expire June 30.

Debra Lovaas, director of Housing and Dining Services, said the decision to extend the existing contract was based on UA President Mark Hamilton’s desire for UAA, UAF and UAS to work together on their food service contracts.

UAF has another year before its contract expires with its current food service provider, Lovaas said. When the UAF contract expires, UAA will begin the process of generating a new contract _” one that would ideally be on the same timeline for all three campuses.

“As with all university contracts, we will go through our procurement office with an RFP (request for proposals) this next fall,” Lovaas said. “There are rules and regulations throughout this process that help to determine the company who wins the bid. The company that ultimately wins the bid will be in place for fall 2007.”

Aramark wants to be the winner of the new dining contract at UAA, and is already taking steps to combat the recurring issues that students complain about regarding student dining. The quality, pricing, variety and availability of food on campus have long been focal issues in the minds of both students and staff.

“We anticipate all of these things being addressed in the responses from any food provider that participates in

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the RFP process,” Lovaas said. ”Aramark has recently presented some ideas for new food options here on campus and is working with student groups and UAA staff to generate feedback and address concerns.”

Aramark Director of Seawolf Dining Services Stephen Wadsworth said he is confident that the dining contract is and will continue to be in good hands.

“If awarded the contract, we would propose major changes to the UAA dining operations,” Wadsworth said. “This would include the introduction of new venues, upgrades of existing venues across campus, and changes in the meal plans that would better suit the needs of our students.”

One problem students have raised with current campus dining is price. However, Wadsworth said comparing the cost of food on campus to off-campus restaurants is like comparing apples to oranges.

“I would say we pay much better wages to employees, due to insurance, benefits – things which many of those other employees don’t have,” Wadsworth said. “Now, if you would look at some of those meals at some of those fast-food menus, some of those are over $6. You go to Wendy’s, even McDonald’s, they have some of their combo meals for over $6.”

Students are what drives the business, Wadsworth said, and supporting them is Aramark’s goal. If the students are unhappy with the experience they have at any of the campus dining locations, he said he encourages them to fill out comment cards to give Aramark valuable feedback. The responses, he said, drive changes in the program, from increasing portion sizes to creating value-meal options, which are two of the latest projects at the Lucy Cuddy Dining Hall.

“We want to work with the campus community to design a dining program that is a value for students and reflects their dining preferences and lifestyles,” Wadsworth said.

In an attempt to collect feedback from students directly, Aramark is conducting an online survey of students that will finish on March 17. So far, there have been more than 1,100 responses, Wadsworth said, and that type of response is the largest Aramark has ever had on a survey – the last survey Aramark commissioned at UAA had only about 50 responses.

Wadsworth said the purpose of the survey, which is being conducted by an outside agency, was to gauge student lifestyles and preferences in order for the company to better serve the students in the future. A desire for more variety and price issues have been the biggest of students’ concerns so far, he said.

Melissa Snodgrass, a junior who transferred from Brigham Young University, only eats on campus when she has to.

“I’m not impressed with the food selection that’s being offered. I look for quality brands that I’m familiar with, that I trust, so I know that I’m going to get a product I consider worth my money,” Snodgrass said, “And in a pinch, to be honest, I’ll go to a vending machine. But generally, I just bring food from my house.”

On the other hand, students such as junior Diana Ho are happy with campus dining. The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables offered is good, she said, and overall, she is satisfied.

“I think the vendor, Aramark, does a fine job,” Ho said. “Their food is not the best out there, but it’s definitely good for us students. They have a great variety of ethnic foods, and the portions are more than you can finish.”