Dining Services, students’ opinions two weeks in


By Grant Morgan and Spencer Skolnick

Absent in the print version of this article is the acknowledgement of news writer Spencer Skolnick’s contributions to this story. 

In early July, the Aramark Corporation arrived on campus to take over operations of UA’s dining services, the result of an administrative decision last spring to outsource.

Among the many changes Aramark has made (see What’s happening with Dining Services?), students can no longer use swipes as they did before.

Last year, one swipe was good for an admission to Robertson Dining Hall or $6 to spend on convenience items with a bar code.

Students could also use swipes to, for example, buy food at the Union Market; however, it was no guarantee that $6 would cover the costs of the meal. If the food was under $6, the student wasn’t getting the full value of a swipe; if over $6, the student would have to use his or her own money, dining dollars, or another swipe to cover the extra cost.

Aramark is trying to get rid of that problem by offering “full meal solutions” at any UA dining location, national brands excluded.

“We’re stepping away from monetary value [for swipes],” said Eugene Walters, Aramark’s district marketing manager. “For one swipe, we want you to get an entree, a side, and a drink,” at any of the 10 locations on campus where students can purchase swipe meals.

However, some students still want to be able to buy convenience items, or items with a bar code, with swipes, like last year.

“Most of the time when I’m on campus I’m using the dining dollars because it’s really easy,” said Sara Woika, a first-year business student with the 15-meal-per-week and $75 dining dollar meal plan. “But I’d like to be able to use my swipes on other things than hot meals, because I want to use my dining dollars for different things, like if I’m going off-campus somewhere that accepts them.”

Macoy Pizzute, an engineering student with the 10-meal-per-week and $750 dining dollar plan, agrees, adding that he would not spend his own money on things he can’t use swipes on, only dining dollars.

“The prices are a little bit higher than going to a convenience store but it’s not too ridiculous,” Pizzute said. “But if you just needed a soda or water or something, you should definitely be able to use a swipe.”

Engineering student Adrian Muica, who has a five-meal-per-week, $150 dining dollar plan, says “swipes should be equal to a face-value or something,” adding that he wouldn’t buy convenience items with his own money, but would use extra swipes for them.

Aramark’s resident district manager, Thomas George, says swipes were not meant to purchase convenience items, but “full meal solutions.”

George added that “the opportunity to purchase [convenience items] in Zee’s is not common anywhere with swipe-type programs,” and that “the former university-run program was considering removing that option because of the heavy cost.”

Something else is different from last year as well—meal periods, of which there are four throughout the day: breakfast from 7:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., dinner from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and “late night” from 9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Students can only use one swipe per meal period.

“I think that we should get rid of [meal periods],” said Iman Blasingame, a business student with the 15-meal-per-week and $75 dining dollar plan. “They’re so long and, the way my classes are set up, it’s kind of difficult—you have to wait to eat again so you can use your swipe, but by the time I can eat, I have another class to go to.”

Along with Woika and Pizzute, Blasingame said she often uses one swipe but is still hungry, and wonders why she cannot then choose to use another one if she wants to, instead of buying food with other money to fill her up.

“We’re all adults,” Blasingame said, “we should be able to manage our swipes.”

Aramark’s Eugene Walters said in response that there are 26 meal periods each week, which give students a “variety of ways to use [swipes] at their own pace, all without missing a meal.”

Taylor Byers, a student-employee of Freshens in the Union, said some students take the changes well and others take them badly, but “overall, [they] have been very understanding and accepting. A lot of people wish the swipes hadn’t changed, though.”

Aramark expects most of UA’s new dining venues, like Panda Express, Chick-fil-A,  and Steak ’n Shake, to be open in the spring. Also in spring, “if there is going to be a change in prices, you’ll notice them [then],” Eugene Walters said about the high prices for convenience goods that some students mention.