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Miami University ends contract with Aramark after less than two years

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<p>Miami first announced it would outsource its dining operations to Aramark in spring 2022 with the goal to improve dining quality.</p>

Miami first announced it would outsource its dining operations to Aramark in spring 2022 with the goal to improve dining quality.

When Gina Roth started her shift at Emporium on Thursday morning, rumors were already swirling that Aramark, the company in charge of dining services at Miami University, had lost its contract.

“By the time I come back Thursday night,” Roth said, “we know for sure it’s happened.”

Grace Payne, a senior speech pathology and gerontology double major and secretary for on-campus affairs in Miami’s Associated Student Government (ASG), chairs the student dining hall advisory committee. She learned about the decision to end the contract yesterday, too.

“I got an email from … the student internship program director [Kimberly Marshall], and she was like, ‘Hey Grace, there have been some updates to the internship program. Can we meet today?’” Payne said. “She basically just informed me — and I’m using the very same language that she did — that Miami and Aramark are parting ways at the end of the spring semester.”

The Miami Student has reached out to Marshall for comment, as well as Amanda Casey, director of dining services.

Payne said the advisory committee was not involved in the decision and had been focusing on smaller areas of improvement over the past year. At the start of the fall 2022 semester, Payne said there were issues with payroll , but since then, there hadn’t been any big issues she was aware of.

While dining services will never make everyone happy, Payne said, the overall response this semester had been positive.

How will this impact students and employees?

Sophia Miller, a junior strategic communications and public administration major, is a student manager at the Shriver Starbucks location and has worked in dining since fall 2021, before Aramark took over dining operations. She said most students opted to switch to Aramark contracts when the company took over because it offered a $1 pay increase.

On Thursday night, she said her managers called a meeting with all of the student employees to update them about the contract. The managers said Miami “was choosing not to continue their contracts with Aramark.”

“Eventually … the GM for all the Starbucks locations on campus came in, very dismal, on the brink of tears, to inform us that the contract would no longer be continuing,” Miller said.

In that meeting, Miller said the managers offered to write letters of recommendation and be references for student employees to keep their jobs when a new company takes over operations, but full-time Aramark employees won’t have that option. Instead, Miller said they may get transferred to the University of Cincinnati, which also contracts with Aramark for dining services.

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Aidan O’Hara, a senior software engineering major, is also a student manager at the Shriver Starbucks and was in the Thursday night meeting. He said the managers shared that any contracts made by Aramark on behalf of the university may now be at risk, including with GrubHub, Panera and Starship, which operates the new delivery robots. Miller also confirmed that the managers discussed the risk to those contracts.

In an email to The Student, Alecia Lipton, associate director of media relations, wrote that all existing contracts with GrubHub, Panera and more will continue.

O’Hara said he also worked for dining services before Aramark took over, and he hopes he can finish out his senior year under them.

“I would prefer to stay with Aramark until I graduate,” O’Hara said. “Ever since the switch, everything’s gone better.”

Dawn Fahner, vice president of human resources, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Several full-time employees with Aramark declined to comment. Lipton wrote that Miami and Aramark will release a joint statement early next week.

Photo by Jake Ruffer | The Miami Student
Under its contract with Aramark, Miami University reopened Bell Tower Commons which had been closed since fall 2020.

Aramark’s history at Miami

Miami first announced that it would outsource its dining operations to Aramark spring 2022 with the goal to improve quality. Prior to that, Miami ran most of its dining operations in-house, with Chartwells taking charge of food in Armstrong in July 2021. Aramark officially took over all dining on June 1, 2022.

Employees got to choose between continuing under Miami contracts or switching to Aramark contracts after the switch. Jeff Mills, president of Miami’s staff union, said at the time that he hoped the contract would help the university attract and retain more employees. The Student has reached out to Mills for comment.

The decision to outsource dining last year led to changes in the restaurant offerings in Armstrong Student Center, the introduction of GrubHub and more. Not every planned change happened, though. Aramark at one point considered converting King Cafe into a smoothie bar, a decision the company ultimately didn’t follow through on.

This year, the university’s dining services again experienced big changes at the start of the fall semester when a Panera location opened in Armstrong and Bell Tower Commons reopened with three ghost kitchens and 20 food delivery robots.

Before news about the contract broke, more improvements were in the works, including a new Starbucks location in Bell. It’s unclear at this time what will happen to those future plans.