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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Aramark studying dining habits

Published: March 19, 2010
Section: Front Page

Marketmatch Research is currently collecting numerical data in order to increase dining options for the Brandeis community.

“It’s difficult for us as an organization to meet everyone’s needs, in the real world you don’t open up a business unless revenue wise it makes sense. We can’t put a café in every new building just because some people want one, we need to know if it’s actually going to benefit a large group of people and be cost effective,” Mark Collins, vice president for campus operations, said, adding that the program will not increase costs.

Results from the research will be used to make changes to dining services on both a small and large scale. Possible results are changes in hours or menus at current dining locations such as Sherman and Usdan. The research could also result in the creation of new services such as grab-and-go stations—to reduce long lines—and dining options geared at Charles River Quad and the Foster Mods.

“[Marketmatch] will tell us if [the university] can do better then the small markets down the street, not [Hannafords] but can we give them something better then what they have,” he said.

Data is being collected through online surveys, focus groups, on site surveying through portable devices such as cell phones, and comparison to peer institutions. The research is being payed for by Aramark, which runs dining on campus, in order to provide more choices and overall better customer service, Collins said.

Data collection is not only geared towards students but also towards faculty, staff and outside customers that would use campus facilities and catering for non-Brandeis events.

“We understand that students are a very important constituency, maybe the most important. You guys are here 24-hours a day, seven days a week, but there’s a lot of other people that use these services also,” Collins said. “We’re trying to blend everyone’s needs,” Student Union President Andy Hogan ’11 said.

Brandeis has used Aramark for about a decade and does not have a time constricting contract.

“[Changing companies] is always up for negotiation,” Collins said, but he added “as long as we’re happy, they’re happy.”

“I really believe that the people in dining services from top to bottom are working really hard, possibly harder the other people on-campus,” he said. “The hours stink and they’re only as good as their last meal, they’re trying to put out a good product and then we get complaints all the time. There’s some sort of disconnect.”

Marketmatch is collaboration between the university and Aramark in the hopes of collecting constructive criticism. “I hear from students that Sherman is prison food, I ask them ‘well what prisons have you been to recently’ … complaints like that don’t help me fix anything. They’re not constructive things that I can fix,” Collins said.

The research will address how far people want to walk to a dining hall at different hours of the day, what new dining options people would like to see, what do people enjoy about the current options. In addition to these areas of dining services, meal plan options are also being reviewed because, as Collins noted, many students feel they’re not getting enough for their money and the current meal plans aren’t working for everyone.

Collins also hopes the research will ameliorate long lines at dining locations.

“This is why we’re doing [marketmatch]. We need to know habits and issues everyone’s facing but there’s going to be lines,” he said. “I have two hours in the afternoon between everyone’s classes and there’s just not enough space and that’s not something that can be fixed overnight. You’re going to face lines at starbucks during certain times of the day, there’s just lines everywhere.”

Changes to the infrastructure and inner workings of the current dining locations would be easiest to implement, Collins said.

“If students are sick of the same types of food then that’s a menu problem, if things aren’t open when students are hungry that’s an hours problem. These things can be fixed when we know what the problems are,” Collins said.

Building new dining halls is an option but, Collins said, “I think our current [dining halls] need to be updated in a 2010 way.”

There has not been a large renovation on the main dining halls in more than a decade. If these locations are renovated, Collins said he did not know how the logistics would work but assumed donors to current dining facilities would be approached for aid.