Aramark exploiting monopoly

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By Jesse McLean

Food service provider sucking Ryerson dry with extra charges, labour overtime and minimum orders. What does it take to have a decent party around here?

If you’re a Ryerson group looking to serve food at an upcoming event, your choice of menus may be a little strict.

A contract between Ryerson’s food services and Aramark, an international food service provider, stipulates that all meals served on campus must be purchased from Aramark Canada. And the rule applies to everyone.

“Aramark has the sole contract for all services on campus,” said Silvana Babikian, an Aramark employee in charge of catering at Ryerson. “If you want food on campus, it has to be through them.”

Any organization that wants to order food services from elsewhere must gain special permission from John Corallo, director of Ryerson’s ancillary services. But eligibility to opt out is only granted for specific conditions.

“There can be ethnic catering orders in which Aramark does not cater to,” said Corallo. “Depending on (a group’s) catering needs, we will work with them accordingly.”

Through Aramark, Ryerson’s catering services offer packages from coffee and Tim Hortons pastries to roasted prime rib dinners. For the most part, their prices match Toronto’s catering competition: a salad, three sandwich halves, dessert and coffee for 20 people — the minimum needed for Aramark service — totals to $359 plus tax, which averages with the costs of a similar meal at Pickle Barrel, Pumpernickel’s Deli and Encore Foods.

But it’s Aramark’s additional fees that hit organizers in the gut. Although the other three listed restaurants require minimums of five to 10 people, Ryerson’s doubles that. This means a group can have less than 20 people, but will be billed based on that minimum. More alarming is the after-hours fee: any food service that’s needed past 5 p.m. is subject to labour charges, which can amount to several hundreds of dollars. However, Corallo said this is unavoidable.

“Depending on the catering order and the hours, additional labour and service fees may apply. We can’t operate outside the law. Every event has costs, and part of the costs includes labour,” he said.

Aramark corporate affairs officer Karen Cutler said contracts are tailored for each of the 600 post-secondary institutions it boasts as clients.

“Every contract is negotiated differently… there isn’t a standard” she said.

The catering builds a relationship between the host and the guest, an essential part of doing business, said Marion Joppe, director of the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

“You need to invest the time in building the relationship but you also need some of the niceties,” Joppe said, adding public institutions always have to be careful to avoid lavish spending.

Although David Dubois, Ryerson’s sports and recreations director, understands the price of labour, the tacked-on fees will make him think twice about ordering food for certain events.

Dubois had planned on having food and drinks available for fans at Sunday’s volleyball games against Queen’s University. However, he turned the thought down when it included an approximate $300 labour price tag, doubling the costs of the food itself.

“It was just simple snacks, but the additional costs blew us out of the ballpark,” he said.

With as much as 30 orders a year, Dubois has no complaints about Aramark’s quality of service, but will look out for any overwhelming additional fees.

“We don’t have a choice, so we have to order from them,” Dubois said.

But an alternative food service exists on campus for both students and faculty. The Student Campus Centre (SCC) and the attached Oakham House, though a part of campus, are privately owned by the Palin Foundation. Thus, both buildings are excluded from the Aramark contract, said SCC general manager Rob Emerson.

The Oakham House is already a hub for Ryerson community meetings and conventions. Although hosted corporate events are one of the key sources of Oakham’s annual revenue, Emerson allows student organizations to decide whether they want in-house catering or not.

“We turn a blind eye to student groups,” said Emerson. “There’s no firm policy in place, so we choose to let them be.”

Emerson has seen no rise in bookings to suggest a shift from Aramark and its selection. But he feels a growth in patrons would be a reaction to loyalty and service.

“We’ve heard what we offer is much more competitively priced than Aramark, so people might just come here for better food for their money,” said Emerson.

As for Corallo, he sees no problems with the Aramark contract, which is in its third of a five year deal.

“(Aramark’s) service is tremendously flexible, and we’ve heard no complaints from Ryerson’s students or faculty,” he said.

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