The Student Center: Before and After Aramark

by Chris DeFilipp '15

For many returning students here at Bennington, this summer involved a wave of changes to offices and services on campus. With numerous administrative changes, the merging of the Student Life and FWT/Career Development Offices, and our new President, Mariko Silver, the campus landscape looks a little different. Nothing, however, causes as much the buzz as the college’s most recent switchover from in-house to Aramark Dining Services. This changeover affected not only our Dining Hall experience, but our Student Center experience as well.

Photograph by Brady.

Photograph by Brady.

The Student Center, home of “Grab-and-Go”, which almost any on-the-go student has resorted to during tight lunch breaks, has had quite a few notable changes. Employees, typically our friends and classmates, now must wear a uniform: a black t-shirt with burnt orange “Bennington College” lettering on the left breast. They must remove facial piercings and wear long pants. Some of these changes have to do with awareness of food safety and cleanliness procedures; others feel it diminishes the openness and causal atmosphere usually attributed to the Student Center.

The space itself is essentially equivalent to what it was three months ago. The only noticeable changes are the removal of the wood display next to Grab-and-Go, the rearrangement of the metal shelves between the drinks and candy, and the nixing of the old order point of sale. Fortunately, the grab and go and front point of sale still function normally, and offer a little relief to the typically long lines that form during rushes. 

Additionally, some of the food options from previous years have shifted. Options such as Madhouse Chips, Seltzer & Co bottled sodas, Panera Soups, and Stonyfield Yogurt are no longer available. Introduced instead are Cape Cod Potato Chips, Doritos, Green Mountain Creamery Yogurt, and a quadrupling of Odwalla selections. This term, to-go food containers for all orders have been nixed and replaced with paper plates. To-go containers have not been completely removed, however, so you may request one if needed.

There have also been some price and portion changes throughout the menu and the store, an adjustment that has been noticed by all. Fruit is now $1.50, Grab-andGo entrees have increased from $5 to $6, sodas are now $2.00 instead of $1.80, and many of the menu items have increased in price as well (fries went up from $2.20 to $2.50, for example). Grab-and-Go sandwiches are smaller, and instead of four or five chicken tenders, we now get three, but overall the consensus has been that despite the perceived change in value (smaller portions, higher prices), the quality has stayed the same or even increased in many instances.

Now, these price increases may come as a shock, but talking to student employees at the Student Center, I’ve learned that there are reasons for some, but not necessarily all, price increases. As the BFP covered last spring, one of the many reasons that Bennington went with Aramark as our new dining services management is that Aramark would provide the college with more buying power to be able to purchase local foods. While we may not notice it at first glance, it's already started happening. The breads the Student Center now uses come from Crazy Russian Girls Bakery, a local bakery located on Main Street in Bennington. Some of the cheeses used now come from local sources. Instead of Stonyfield Farms, the Student Center now provides Green Mountain Creamery Yogurt, a local yogurt brand, and other changes, such as new sandwich pickles and fries, while not necessarily local, have been seen as an improvement.

The Student Center, like many of the changes this term, is still in flux, but so it goes when there is such a drastic changeover. There is good news, though. We’ve been reassured that if there’s anything we miss, anything we want, we can talk to them about getting it in stock, and they’ll see what they can do. Kerry McGuire, the new Student Center manager who has replaced Nick Disorda, can be found walking around most evenings during and after dinner until close, and Student Center favorites Todd and Dan are still there as usual. While these changes may take getting used to, the kinks that were present at the start of term are starting to be ironed out and rectified, and while the price increases may not be entirely friendly for our wallets or for staying within our meal plans, they do indicate a general increase in local ingredients and food items, one of the main concerns of the Bennington Community when Aramark was first announced.

(Cover Photo: Architecture Record)