In a staff editorial at the beginning of the year, this page joined many students in expressing optimism that Aramark’s $4.5 million renovation of J Street would improve the quality of food service for students. Given time to reflect on the impact of the renovation after the first weeks of school, it is clear such optimism was premature. With some notable exceptions, the renovations were detrimental to overall foodservice quality, and students are responding in kind.
A casual glance at J Street during peak hours reveals long lines one might attribute to an increase in traffic. A closer look, however, reveals the opposite; longer lines are more indicative of the decrease from 14 non-market venues to eight and general understaffing of such venues than to an increase in patronage. At the same time – despite an increase in student population and fewer seats in J Street itself – seating has been easier to find during anticipated busy hours. These realities are symptomatic of the negative changes to overall Aramark-operated food service.
Culminating with the new renovations, GW students no longer have access to quality, relatively nutritious, home-style meals. Perennially, students had access to venues serving complete meals. Over the years Aramark eliminated venues serving this niche such as Thurston Dining Hall, the Hall on Virginia Avenue Diner and the Home Zone. While students enjoy fast food, inevitably individuals will tire of greasy burgers and fries and such students no longer have a place to turn. Nor do health conscious students have sufficient venues on campus serving their desire for nutritious meals. Aramark unwisely eliminated popular healthy options such as the Salad Garden and the wrap station during its shake-up of food service. During deliberations for future improvements, Aramark should strongly consider replacing its first-floor convenience store – an utter waste of limited space – with a salad bar or wrap station.
Systemically, J Street appears to be an excellent option for someone desiring a quick bite for lunch, but it fails to adequately serve students for either breakfast or dinner. Outside of Einstein’s Bagels, J Street offers no breakfast alternative. In the past, students frequently patronized the breakfast buffets available in TDH and at Home Zone. For dinner, the venue closest to providing a complete meal is not in J Street; Coggins’ Sandwich Works offers students soups and salads in addition to their sandwiches. While Aramark might intend to focus their resources on this niche, it should strongly consider catering to these broader student needs.
Aramark would contend that the centerpiece of its J Street renovations is the District Market, which has finally fulfilled student desires for a full service supermarket. This, however, is blatantly untrue. While the District Market has a deli, the entire venue is merely a better spread-out Provisions. It sells expensive, high-end products – exemplified by its ornate gourmet cheese display – instead of providing a more diverse selection of the lower-end products students prefer. The venue in general is poorly laid out, has no logical place for lines to form and its six-register configuration is rarely utilized. These factors compound into a proverbial headache for District Market customers.
This page repeatedly asserted last year that the advent of Colonial Cash, while positive from a competitive standpoint, had the potential to inexorably alter food service at GW. Either by University machinations or sheer Aramark indifference or ineptitude, fewer students are eating in J Street. This problem only has the potential to get worse if the status quo is maintained. While upperclassmen have been accustomed to dining in J Street, underclassmen have come of age with Colonial Cash and are less reliant on dining in J Street. Aramark must heed the criticism or they risk incurring an uncertain return on their GW investment.