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Aramark office cafeteria food

I'm sure that hundreds of you must work in an office building where Aramark is the contracted cafeteria company; they run everything, may not actually "cook" anything but rather reheat all sorts of frozen stuff.

Ours (Philadelphia area) is pretty bad, although some food gems pop up once in awhile.

The bad:
* Veal Parmesan. Those dreaded pre-breaded pre-fried "patties" with lots of fat and almost no veal, smothered with tasteless cheese.
* Mac & Cheese. Pseudo-alfredo sauce, no cheese flavor, covered with too many bread crumbs on top
* Panini. The bread is actually some kind of flat round pita, so you get a semi-circular sandwich with random ingredients, sitting in its own grease on a hotplate for an hour.
* Crunchtime Chicken Sandwich. pre-made fried chicken 'patty', slice of cheese, slice of 'ham', globs of sauce. Probably 1000 calories and still has no flavor.
* General Tso Chicken. 90% breading, 10% chicken. Sweet sauce with no flavor.
* pretty much every other hot entree

The good:
* Fried Chicken tenders & curly fries. The tenders are actually large pieces of chicken breast. Tasty.
* Spinach & Cheese Calzone. The filling is 90% spinach and 10% cheese, so I feel like I'm getting lots of vegetables.

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  1. Holy crap! I forgot about the terror of Aramark food.....perhaps it was my brain protecting all future taste receptors!!! When I was in college, they provided the food in the dining halls. Horrible. Absolutely horrible. They would tease us by advertising a steak night and would give you a ticket so that everyone only got one steak and when you would get it, it was not much more than a dry lump of cat food....or at least that is what it looked and smelled like. Anyone who makes scrambled eggs by mixing yellow powder and water obviously doesn't care too much about food quality (really, how hard is it to make real scrambled eggs?). I actually LOST 15 pounds instead of gaining the freshman 15 because there would be weeks at a time where the only thing they served that I could stand eating was a bagel and strawberry cream cheese. Even their milk tasted funny. I don't know if they used powdered milk or what, but it had the strangest taste. How could I have almost forgot the horror of that food? Of course, the year after I moved out of the dorms, they changed food companies and all improved. Grrrr.....

    2 Replies
    1. re: sunshinedrop

      Oh man, I miss the steak and shrimp teaser nights. It may have been bad, but at that point in life it resembled meat more than anything else i was eating.

      1. re: sunshinedrop

        Uggghhh...the college memories! I lived on campus for a few semesters and was forced to purchase a meal ticket for about a thousand dollars. There's still about 977.37 cents left on that meal ticket. The food was that awful!

      2. We have Aramark at the hospital where I work, and the stuff normally isn't that bad- certainly better than regular cafeteria food. Of course when I say it "isn't that bad" it's still much worse than most restaurants. I try to eat pretty healthy, and their salad bar is normally pretty decent, they also do a "smothered" chicken or chopped sirloin that are both good, and they have some good "cajun" items. They make a pretty good taco salad (you can get beef or chicken), and it almost always sells out, as do their chicken wings on wing day. I think that's b/c they let you buy as few or as many as you want (like 3 wings for 1.75 or so); and people actually take them home. Anything with pasta, I try to avoid, it's always a mushy mess. Or anything with meat that has been processed at all, like nuggets or fried shrimp. Always taste weird.

        1. I go to NYU, and Aramark does our cafeterias... the cafeterias are dirty and unhealthy, but worst of all, they will tell you something is "vegetarian" when it isn't. I could go on for pages listing the bad stuff they serve

          1. No excuse for dirty kitchens but contracted foodservice companies are often squeezed so hard by the companies that hire them that the quality suffers. In some cases, a company will pay a subsidy and the result is usually a superior food program. Such a scenario is becoming less common so practices like using low end ingredients, hiring low wage employees, and offering smaller portions becomes the norm. If enough employees complain maybe your company will view the foodservice as more of a means to increase employee morale and take action.

            1. Aramark did our college caf too. The only edible food came from the stir-fry station, where you can decide what goes in.

              1 Reply
              1. re: piccola

                We have that too, but it's a 1-person 'saute' station, takes 2 minutes to serve 1 person. It's a laugh, we've got several thousand employees on our campus and there is always a 20 person line for that station.

              2. I have to say that I have been generally very dissatisfied with the quality of the ARAMARK food service operations that I have had contact with in health care, corporate and concessions. My biggest gripe has been the quality of the food and the general lack of healthy choices in the health care arena. (Although as a patient, I will admit that eating their food was enough to give me an incentive to get home sooner.)

                I will also admit that in several cases, I have removed ARAMARK from the companies from which we were seeking RFPs for operating our plant cafeterias due to mu past experiences.

                Having said that, most food service operators are somewhat limited by the company that signs the contract. If the client wants a first-rate operation, most operators can provide that. If the client wants the lowest cost operation around, most operators can provide that also. Generally, cost pressures are greatest in health care and educational accounts.

                1 Reply
                1. re: jlawrence01

                  Having worked in that industry, you are exactly right. You get what they pay for !

                2. I have worked for Aramark for a long time, and i have to say that you are absolutely right, the quality of the stuff they use to make the meals is awful. For the people that don't know, this is how it works! first good quality food goes to high-end retailers, what they don't sell gets sent back to the warehouse, the food is then downgraded and sold cheep to bargain stores, what they don't sell they send back, the warehouse then down grades the food and sells it really, really, cheep to companies like Aramark. Because they buy in such bulk, and have a high turn over, they can just get away with having the food fit for human consumption. Anything that Aramark, or companies like them, don't buy gets turned into animal feed!! I kid you not!! once i took delivery of a load of fruit and veg, the cabbages were brown!! there was brown / black water in the cellophane wrapper and they stank, my boss was in two minds about using them, then he got a look at the rest of the fruity and veg, it was in a similar condition, and thankfully decided to send it back!! its not that bad now because we got a new boss that complained and the quality improved, BUT, if we hadn't complained the warehouse would have kept on sending the worst. I suspect that most people don't complain because they want an easy life, and the result is inedible food, we had some brilliant cooks, but there was only so much that could be done!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Ryoko

                    I'm sorry but over all that's just not completly accurate. It may have been the case in the unit you worked at but in contract services every single location is different. I actually pimped myself out for a while and took a job as a Chef for Aramark over seeing a secured bank facilty. When I got the offer I kind of rolled my eyes. Then they said M-F, No nights, no weekends, no holidays and to steal an AB line my ankles went right up around my ears.
                    The unit was subsidized to the extent that we sold under cost. We used all high end deli cuts and had two home made soups every day plus a grill area as well as a fresh station. One day we may have done fresh carved turkey, the next day stir fry to order. The amazing thing was the kitchen in this building was freaking killer. Steam kettles, tilt brazer, multiple walk ins, huge prep area, more stove space than most high end kitchens. I have worked high end hotels and clubs with kitchens that were a fraction of that size. We used all local produce and the same vendors as other restaurants/hotels etc.
                    I'm no fan of Aramark if "Aramark" even exists. It's actually a shell corp registered to another and another ad nauseum. They have some pretty shady business practices IMO. If you get lousy contract food at the school, hospital or work cafateria it's because that's what the facility negotiated and paid for.

                    1. re: Docsknotinn

                      I have a question for Docsknotinn. I am a student at Cal State East Bay (formerly Hayward) and I am taking a Business ethics class and my target corporation is Aramark. I noticed in your post that you stated Aramark has had shady business practices and was wondering if you would be able to answer some simple questions for me. My email address is sgarcia55@horizon.csueastbay.edu. If you would be willing to do this for me, please email me. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon. -Stephanie

                      1. re: sgarcia224

                        Just so you know, that post you replied to is over 2 years old. Chances docs sees it are pretty slim, since his last post on Chowhound was also in 2008

                  2. I guess I'll be the voice of dissention. Our office has an Aramark cafeteria and it's good to great.

                    I don't fully understand the economics of industrial food service, but I am sure that in very few cases, they line up in favor of hiring talented staff, purchasing fresh ingredients and using more inventive menus. Generally, office cafeterias are good for alternatives to a Lean Cuisine and probably a good standard egg and bacon breakfast.

                    Thankfully, I happen to work in the HQ of a mega-billion dollar company. I suspect, on average, the employee salary in the building is significantly above average. But whatever arrangement they have made beyond employees that will pay a little extra for good food, the Aramark cafeteria has an on-site management structure and cooks with actual skills. I was asking one of their "lead cook" guys if he went to culinary school and how they come up with the featured menu items. He said he has a degree in hotel and restaurant catering/planning (or something to that effect...it is a reputable university in this area) and that the individual cooks there have leeway/opportunity to create the recipes.

                    It's still a cafeteria but many of the daily features compare favorably to any of the local (suburban chain and independent) restaurants. Ingredients are fresh, sauces (scratch) very good and, there are dozens of choices from extensive soup/salad bar, pizzas, deli sandwiches, saute guy, etc. A couple weeks ago, I had a micro green salad with sauteed halibut, scallops and very large prawns with a citrus vinaigrette, pine nuts and gorgonzola that was as good as any other salad I've had in a long time. Granted, I paid $9 for it, but where else can you get that set of ingredients for $9?

                    I'm guessing it's not necessarily Aramark that's the problem but the lack of opportunities for them to do a good job.

                    1. This raises a Steven Wright-like question: Is there a horrible cafeteria at Aramark headquarters?

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Bob W

                        Actually, I've heard that the one in Philly is pretty decent.

                        I work with ARAMARK quite frequently, and jlawrence is correct. ARAMARK has many levels of catering that they do and it's up to the company to specify what level it desires. Tyically the high labor cost and food revenue create the level that most cafeterias offer.

                        My college cafeteria was downright awful (excluding the salad bar), but I've also attended higher end catered events sponsored by ARAMARK where the food was creative and delicious.

                        1. re: jessicheese

                          Supporting what you said jessi and my post above, at this moment, I'm eating "tropical lime tilapia" (interesting seasoned breading, a spicy cream sauce) and very fresh sauteed green beans from the Aramark cafeteria at my building.

                          Again, though I'm not a huge fan of tilapia, it's a pretty satisfying and flavorful lunch. $5.50.

                          1. re: jessicheese

                            <<I work with ARAMARK quite frequently, and jlawrence is correct. ARAMARK has many levels of catering that they do and it's up to the company to specify what level it desires. Tyically the high labor cost and food revenue create the level that most cafeterias offer.

                            My college cafeteria was downright awful (excluding the salad bar), but I've also attended higher end catered events sponsored by ARAMARK where the food was creative and delicious.>>

                            To back this up, my spouse works at a college where ARAMARK is the food service company for both the cafeteria and catered events hosted by the college. I've had their food at several catered events (including our own wedding) and it was delicious. Most of what I've had has tasted like high-end food, not just high-end catered food.

                            Sometimes he grabs food in the college cafeteria and it's not the same quality as the catered stuff, but it's also definitely tasty and not revolting. I think you're right that it must have a lot to do with what the client wants and who manages the location.

                            1. re: rweater

                              Never in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate posting a pro-ARAMARK comment. Personally, I don't like the company.

                              About ten years ago, I lived right off the campus of Oberlin College in Ohio. One week during a labor negotiation, the students were having a large protest in favor of the UAW-represented housekeeping and cafeteria employees who were asking for an increase significantly higher than inflation. Finally, the administration capitulated and agreed to the raise. The following week, the college announced a higher than expected raise in tuition. Again, another protest.

                              If you go onto any college campus, there is a small portion of students (maybe 20-30%) who want an upgraded program. Most want an affordable program. The challenge is to find a medium that satisfies most.

                              Corporate dining (whether restaurant or cafeteria) is a different matter. In this case, there is less price sensitivity. Again, it depends somewhat on the market. You will get a much higher quality of selections at the JP Morgan Chase HQ in NYC than you will get at a manufacturing plant serving assembly workers.

                        2. When you contract with a management company - whether that be ARAMARK or Canteen or Sodexho, the client generally specifies the level of service that the facility will receive (based upon what the client is willing to pay for) and other expectations.

                          I worked in one cafeteria where the administrator asked us to run a daily special of a REAL steak sandwich and fries for $2 which was well below the food cost. He was paying the bills and he wanted the entire staff to eat their meals in-house and wanted to highly subsidize the experience.

                          I worked in another location run by a certain state. They required us to competitively bid out for all of the food. The food was complete garbage as most of it came from the state prison farm and some really low-end 4th rate vendors. Needless to say, the food was really pretty bad despite the fact that I had a couple of really good cooks.

                          I will admit that some of the worst food that I have had in a hospital has come from ARAMARK facilities but in all fairness, I probably have not had enough experience in the matter.

                          1. I always kind of wished we had a cafeteria but maybe now I'm glad that we only have a vending machine and a microwave. One of our local banks actually hired a gourmet chef to cook for the employees as one of their employment perks. I know I'm working at the wrong place.

                            1. Comforting to see I wasn't the only one in college living off of bagels and cereal! Aramark is AWFUL. It always amazed me that the broccoli served only had stems, and the "franks & beans" only had the ends of the hot dog in it. And the "Steak Shrimp or Chicken nights" were a joke. I used to get the caf extra early on the omelet bar nights so I wouldn't have to wait in line.

                              A fraternity at my school made a T-shirt with the Top 10 Cafeteria Meals. #2 was clam strips, and #1 Louisiana Seafood Etoufee. I don't even want to know what was in that etoufee.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: lawgirl3278

                                In the current college environment, it is hard to believe that college cafeterias can afford to be as bad as they were 25 years ago when colleges were not competing for students.

                                Most college caterers now feature taste panels with the students as well as offering student advisory panels to work out menus that are well accepted by students.

                                1. re: jlawrence01

                                  Well to my school's defense, I believe they did some revamping after I graduated. For instance, they added a pasta saute station daily (as opposed to "special occasions").

                                  The one thing I never understood was that they only offered tomato soup once a semester. They had 2 soups daily, usually quite awful choices, but never tomato. How expensive can it be for a tub of tomato soup? The soup menu was amusingly predictable: Monday-cream of broccoli; Tuesday-cream of mushroom; Wednesday-cream of cauliflour; Thursday- cream of "vegetable" (i.e. the leftovers from the entire week dumped in the bowl)

                                  1. re: lawgirl3278

                                    Our soups were the same way, but if I got to lunch late, the tomato soup was ALWAYS burned. They had a huge kettle of it and it just sat in the warmer for 3 hours instead of having smaller kettles that got rotated more often. That could be why tomato was so rare for you all.

                              2. We have Derringer Food Service at my work. It's pretty awful.