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Students dish out disapproval of MU dining

By Lana Pochiro, For The Miami Student

Miami has entered new territory with the recent discontent among students in regards to food services.

Recent changes in Armstrong were met with a strong student backlash. , Director of Procurement and Food Purchasing Jon Brubacher said these changes were an attempt to shorten the wait-time for food.

"From the analysis we found when investigating lengthy wait times at Pulley, the majority of the issues were tied to lack of fryer space," he said. "The menu was simply too dependent on fryers."

Several fried items were removed from Pulley Diner's menu, including fried fish, hash brown patties, homestyle fried chicken, onion rings and mozzarella sticks. However, due to negative student response, mozzarella sticks returned to the menu from the hours of 5 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Mein Street also underwent changes. Rather than a build-your-own bowl, students must choose between three pre-mixed vegetable combinations for stir-fry.

According to estimates gathered by Dining Services, the average wait for food at Pulley Diner has been reduced to six minutes and the wait at Mein Street now averages three minutes.

Vice President of Finance and Business Services David Creamer recognized the dissatisfaction with dining and the need to investigate.

"While we've had a lot of national reputation, we've seen more criticism in the last year than has been previously. I can't ignore that," he said. "I have to probe and ask more challenging questions about what we're doing and if there are things we could be doing that would enable us to be better."

Creamer expressed both his and the university's commitment to ensuring exemplary student services.

"Because we're interested in being recognized nationally for doing a great job of providing a residential experience for students, dining became one of the areas we've had some success," he said. "The challenge today is figuring out how to sustain that."

Creamer said new buildings on campus, like the Armstrong Student Center, pose unique challenges, but Miami's focus on student experience remains the same.

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"We have to make sure that as we develop new venues, they match what students are looking for, and I think we've done some things very well in that regard and some things we've missed the mark a little bit," he said.

To remedy the existing situation, Miami hired Aramark, a food, facilities and uniform provider, as a consulting firm to investigate and report on the current state and suggest possible improvements in the food services system. Aramark's involvement at Miami relates to the assessment of dining services and improvement of student dining experiences.

"We have an agreement with Aramark to do some analysis," Creamer said. "They're a large provider; they do a lot of university food service, so instead of us being the only party to evaluate [our food services] we asked somebody else to come in with a fresh set of eyes."

Associate Vice President of Auxiliaries Kim Kinsel said Aramark's report would help Miami dining identify the ways it can improve cost control, efficiency and quality.

"They are utilizing their experience to evaluate our services and they're providing us with that information," Kinsel said. "We know ourselves, we know how we operate and we certainly get feedback from students, but we may be able learn from others in a way that would help us improve."

Creamer viewed Aramark's outside opinion as vital to maintaining Miami's successes in dining services.

"We can't afford to just keep doing things the same way," he said. "We need to find ways to suggest how we can do better."

Creamer said Aramark's different approach to dining services is crucial to the university's improvement.

"If we're going to stimulate that [improvement], we need somebody to come in who is going to look at it very differently than we would, and that was the reason we selected this particular firm," he said.

Creamer stressed the importance of gaining a new perspective on dining, but said ultimately Aramark's results will be discussed fully before any changes are made.

"It doesn't mean we're going to accept and do everything that comes out of this, but it will give us a better contrast to the way we've historically looked at things," he said.

Kinsel and Creamer stressed the university has no interest in switching food suppliers or outsourcing contracts to Aramark.

Brubacher said U.S. Foods provides the majority of Miami's food, and local contracts contribute a sizeable portion of food beyond that. Miami also participates in Ohio Proud, which promotes Ohio-made and Ohio-grown products.

Brubacher said these local partnerships could provide fresher products and cater to student interests.

"We listen to students," he said. "We've been hearing it for years that students are more and more interested in [buying] local ... "

Student input remains a high priority for Miami's dining services. Creamer hopes Aramark's consultation will facilitate a better student experience.

"Our goal always has to be 'how can we do the best for you as a student?' Because if we do that, interest in Miami will remain strong," he said.

ASG Secretary for On-Campus Affairs Maggie Reilly said Dining Services' changes have fulfilled their promises to students.

"Overall, dining services are extremely open to all student suggestions and want to accommodate students as much as possible," she said. "The biggest complaint about Armstrong was the long waiting times at the restaurants. After analyzing statistics and talking to all the managers and workers, they came up with a few solutions that have, in fact, decreased waiting time."

Brubacher and others on campus remain determined to facilitate students' wishes.

"[ASC Management Team] as well as Dining Services and Marketing] will be working at Armstrong through the peak lunch hours and actively soliciting student feedback," Brubacher said.

Reilly agreed student opinion carries a great deal of weight with Dining Services.

"Through outlets like their Twitter account, student feedback forms both at the restaurants and online, and emails, dining services wants to hear student concerns and devotes all of their time and energy to trying to making us happy," she said. "Students do have an impact on bigger issues."