Aramark resets the dining table

By the end of this month, the Subway should be serving the Penn campus.

The sandwich-shop chain is one of three new retail eateries being added to Class of 1920 Commons at 3800 Locust Walk as part of a larger overhaul of Penn’s dining services.

The changes are being implemented by Aramark, the Philadelphia-based company chosen as the University’s new food service provider.

Even though the Aramark staff have been on campus only since July, there are already noticeable signs of change in the dining halls and retail operations.

Houston Market, the facility used most often by staff, looks the same, but there’s now more on the menu.

Maeve Duska, marketing manager for Dining Services, explained that in addition to pizza and pasta dishes, the Ciao! section will have calzones, specialty sandwiches and breads. And the Global Fusion menu, which featured Asian and Mexican fare, will also include a number of other cuisines from around the world.

“We are also working with our national distributors to bring more national brands [of food] into Houston Market, such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream,” she said. “And we are now [offering] fresh soft pretzels as well.” Prices will remain about the same as they are now.

At 1920 Commons, new retail outlets are being added in response to student surveys that showed a desire for more eating choices. Along with Subway, which Duska said was the students’ top choice for new retail, Bene Pizza and Salad Garden will occupy space on Commons’ second floor.

Other changes in 1920 Commons as well as the two other dining halls, Kings Court/English College House and Hill College House, also respond to expressed student desires. “We wanted to put in place much more healthy items, including baked potatoes, more steamed vegetables, a larger fresh tossed salad bar and more vegetarian and vegan options,” Duska said.

Aramark also plans to beef up the demonstration cooking stations in the dining halls. 1920 Commons—which received a makeover that includes more attractive lighting and a warmer paint scheme over the summer—is getting a pan-Asian demonstration station; and plans for the expanded station at King’s Court/English College House call for visiting chefs to host demonstration cooking sessions and discussions.

Also in response to student demands for more flexibility, more campus meal plans now include Dining Dollars, which can be used in dining halls and in retail operations.

All of these changes are merely the tip of the iceberg, though. Aramark is now engaged in a more thorough study of the campus to guide its strategy for improving dining.

The process, called MarketMatch, is one of the reasons Penn chose Aramark, said Amy Johnson, director of external relations for Business Services. “We decided it was time to take Dining Services to the next level,” she said. “The strength of Aramark’s operations and MarketMatch recommended them to us.”

Aramark’s regional manager for Dining Services, Mike Cenicola, said: “MarketMatch is a comprehensive study of the University. It breaks the campus down into neighborhoods and allows us to survey each neighborhood and determine what type of service is required for each one.”

MarketMatch focus groups will mainly target students, Senecola said, but administrative staff and other campus constituencies will also be included.

Aramark’s current contract to run Penn’s dining services is for one year, but Cenicola said, “We are obviously looking at a long-term partnership with Penn as we evaluate the program over this year.”

Originally published on September 19, 2002