Student Center Subway Responds To Complaints With Cameras, Name Tags

The Subway located in the Student Center has recently made several changes to service following complaints from MIT students.

Employees now wear name tags, which allow customers to easily identify an individual in case of a dispute or other follow-up. A comment box has also been added so suggestions or complaints can be brought directly to the attention of the manager. The owner’s phone number and e-mail are posted on the counter to further encourage communication between the Subway and its customers.

Christopher K. Hoffman ’08, Chairman of the Undergraduate Association Committee on Dining, recalled that the UA first drew attention to the complaints during the Senate retreat in mid-November of 2007. According to UA President Martin F. Holmes ’08, the most common criticisms were directed toward slow service and food that was not prepared to satisfaction.

Hoffman said that both the owner and manager of Subway were responsive to complaints after being approached by Hoffman and Holmes and agreed to make a number of changes.

It was suggested that a manager stay on site 24/7 to ensure that there would be someone in charge at all times. Hoffman said, “Students complained that employees weren’t as friendly as the customers expected them to be.” One particular complaint — sometimes employees would socialize instead of working and fail to realize the presence of a customer — was addressed by the installation of at least two video cameras over winter break, according to Holmes. Subway owner Aymen Rajeh assured that he would “replace the current employees if they continue to have problems,” said Holmes.

According to Richard D. Berlin III, director of Campus Dining, the friction between Subway and its customers is also partially due to students’ lack of preparation at the counter. Due to Subway’s highly customized sandwiches, ordering often takes longer than at other fast-food restaurants, especially during the lunch and dinner hours.

Berlin said, “People can help by knowing what they want.” Rajeh echoed this sentiment, saying, “We [Subway] can go as fast as you [the customer] can go.”

Rajeh explained that new employees undergo a week-long training period, during which they learn how to perform every step of custom sandwich-making, from baking the bread to presenting the final product. They then specialize, which expedites the food-making process – but all that doesn’t help if the customer doesn’t know what they want.

One particular change to address this issue has been the addition of “the works,” referring to all the vegetables on the menu, according to Rajeh. By using the phrase “the works minus onions,” for example, the customer can both save time and avoid a chance of miscommunication.

Since the restaurant’s improvements, neither Rajeh nor the UA has heard feedback. However, if further problems are brought up, the UA will work to address them immediately, said Holmes.

The meeting with Subway also addressed future campus-wide discounts and promotions, such as the 50 percent off sandwich promotion during finals week in December. Subway’s involvement with the student body helps demonstrate how appreciative it is of MIT’s business, said Holmes. Rajeh agreed: “Subway works with a lot of student organizations, and we’re always happy to help.”

Already, the Subway at MIT has a higher daily volume of customers than any other in the greater Boston area. However, their prices match the standard rates for Subway restaurants nationwide. Rajeh admitted that establishing a Subway in a new environment required a trial period, during which the restaurant learned MIT’s preferences. He said, “In any new neighborhood, we have a learning curve.”

The other restaurants in Lobdell, such as Shinkansen and Sepal, have implemented an efficient system of taking orders and preparing food — something Subway hopes to achieve with the help of the student body, according to Rajeh. This includes the recent implementation of TechCASH at the Subway located at the intersection of Beacon St. and Massachusetts Ave.

No major changes are planned for the restaurant in coming months, but Hoffman and Rajeh continue to exchange communication to ensure that Subway smoothly integrates into the MIT community.