The lack of late-night customers at J Street is not a reflection of student demand but rather their dissatisfaction with Aramark’s service.
In another setback during its recently renewed contract with the University, Aramark announced a significant scaling back of the hours in its J Street venues. Asserting a lack of student demand for such hours, Aramark responded by closing most venues at 10 p.m., and shutting the District Market and Subway by 11 p.m. While this page would hardly fault Aramark for taking such action if there were no market for late-night eating, it is clear a lack of student traffic in J Street during late-night hours is partly a symptom of Aramark’s own failures and inability to compete in the current open-market foodservice environment.
With just cause, this page repeatedly has derided Aramark for its inability to offer a quality product to students. The latest excuses buttressing its rationale to cut J Street hours represent a general incapability of Aramark to recognize the role of its own ineptitude in its current dilemma. Since the start of this academic year, Aramark has misled students about their late-night options and has done a poor job communicating changes in venue hours. As a result of the confusion, students have been left uncertain about whether a late-night trip to J Street will end with hot food or closed doors. Instead, they have turned to on-campus eateries such as Pita Pit – which has aggressively marketed itself as GW’s prime late-night dining option – or order out using Colonial Cash.
Aramark has also done a poor job gauging student interest in which venues should operate late, opting to keep unpopular venues such as Baja Sol and Miso open for use. While service is generally poor during the day, as the night progresses – and with fewer managers keeping watch – hostile employees and painstakingly slow assistance deter students from eating at Aramark establishments later in the evening.
If Aramark wishes to tap into the late-night market – and receive the resulting financial windfall – there are specific steps they need to take. First, they should target certain venues for late-night service and aggressively promote the hours for these venues. While a few students might be willing to trek across campus for a Subway sandwich, many more would make the trip if Wendy’s were to stay open later. By accurately gauging which venues would be more popular late at night, students would gain a valuable convenience, and Aramark would draw more dollars.
The quality of service at Aramark venues is unacceptable. While there is no doubt many individuals approach their job pleasantly, there are many more who drive students away from J Street. This phenomenon is exacerbated as the night progresses and fewer managers are present. In order to correct this issue, Aramark should enact a two-pronged approach. First, it must enact an aggressive complaint system. Under such a system, students would have the ability to escalate complaints to managers directly, and higher-up officials if necessary. Secondly, Aramark should investigate the ability to hire student employees. While such an arrangement would rankle union officials, having students manning venues would give students a valuable employment opportunity while dramatically improving the overall quality of service.
The center of campus eating is quickly shifting from J Street to the new Ivory Tower food venues. While at one point being the one place where students congregated in large numbers, J Street is quickly becoming less relevant for students on a daily basis. Aramark officials should take a hard look at their role – and that of their employees – in this trend, for they have more control over it than they seem to believe.