Column: Losing the symbiotic relationship with students

While Aramark, GW’s dining services provider, began the year optimistic about business at GW despite the creation of Colonial Cash to replace meal points, it is now apparent that all is not well. The company’s revenue is down at least 30 percent. The inevitable fallout of Colonial Cash has begun.

Colonial Cash has put Aramark on an equal competitive playing field with food providers that previously only accepted Debit Dollars, separate from the traditional meal plan. Furthermore, money once reserved for food purchases can now be used to purchase many products and services besides food, including expensive electronics, books, movies, apparel, haircuts and dry cleaning – the list goes on.

Aramark is in a position where its only choice is to make certain cutbacks to stop the bleeding. Aramark said Wednesday it has laid off emplyees and will be limiting hours, significantly at some locations.

Students are expressing disapproval of the company’s decisions, but such criticism is misplaced. Junior Ryan Geist, director of the SA Dining Services Committee, pointed out that it is “unfair for us as students to ask for Aramark to stay open after we supported Colonial Cash … It is unfair for us to ask Aramark to stay open for hours they are not making money.”

There used to be a symbiotic relationship between Aramark and students by which students’ overall happiness was more important than small business decisions. Back then, Aramark was especially quick to cater to student needs, even if it wasn’t the best per-hour business decision, by taking such measures as adding vegetarian options and keeping venues open later. The company did this because it was guaranteed all meal points. But now the relationship between Aramark and students has changed – it has become more of a business relationship, and students should be ready for it.

Aramark is no longer a partner with the University and its students in the same sense of it was under meal points. As Geist noted, for the administration or this SA to ask Aramark to stay open hours when it is not making money is now as absurd as asking that of Sizzling Express or The Burro. Obviously, Colonial Cash has hurt, if not killed, students’ ability to bargain with Aramark over services.

Colonial Cash has changed the nature of the dining marketplace in and around the University, which was partially expected. Some students might not mind the tradeoff of more off-campus venues for fewer comprehensive options on campus. The problem is that a service void will occur if off-campus Colonial Cash partners do not respond to the changing atmosphere. Aramark limiting its services will push even more students to the off-campus partners, but these partners do not cater to student needs because students using GWorld cards make up only part of their business. Thus, there will be very few options later in the evening, for example, unless the off-campus partners capitalize on the changing scenario and stay open later with more staff to handle the influx of students. Unfortunately, establishments such as Au Bon Pain and Bertucci’s have been slow to do so.

It is too early to tell whether these changes occurring in student dining will end up benefiting students in the long run, but so far students are enjoying the variety. They will see in the near future whether or not the drawbacks at J Street will detract from the popularity of Colonial Cash and force changes once again, which seem more likely as each day passes.

The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet opinions editor.

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