What’s for dinner?
It’s a question that’s perplexed mankind on a daily basis since the beginning of time.
Unfortunately, if you’re a USC student, the correct answer is “nothing on campus during the weekends” — unless you’re lucky enough to have a meal plan for either of the decadent dining halls on campus.
Currently, all specialty cafes as well as restaurants in The Lot and Café 84 are closed on the weekends, save for Baja Fresh and The Lab. Further, most USC restaurants — especially those in The Lot — have shortened hours of operation during the week, cutting service times from anywhere between one and eight hours.
In anticipation of the opening of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center in the Fall 2010 semester, and the likely closing of the church bazaar tent it will be replacing, Trojan Hospitality has been working with the Undergraduate Student Government to survey the dining preferences of the student body.
The survey for prospective Campus Center residents reads like a who’s who of heavy hitters in the greasy food industry. Carl’s Jr., Wolfgang Puck, Panda Express, California Pizza Kitchen, Chick-fil-A and Five Guys are the most notable inclusions in this all-star team of culinary choices.
Don’t get me wrong — as an East-Coaster, the prospect of being able to cross-pollinate and wash down a side of Five Guys’ Cajun fries with a Chick-fil-A peach milkshake excites me just as much as the next J. Crew-clad student.
But even if the university finds some way of acquiring the 10 most highly rated establishments on the Zagat survey and throwing them into the Campus Center, it seems that the quality of venues would only slightly outweigh the quantity of hours — or lack thereof — that these restaurants were open. Meaning, even though The Lot might be gone by the time the Tutor Center opens its doors, the inconvenient hours of operation will likely endure through the opening of the new campus center and its dining facilities.
It’s like owning a fleet of BMWs, but only being able to open the doors during certain times. The car may run better than any car you’ve ever driven, but it’s a moot point if you can’t use it whenever you need to.
The campus already boasts a fair share of high-quality retail outlets. The solution is not to switch out your car for another comparable luxury vehicle with the same problem, but to find a way to fix what you’ve already got — improving the service of current facilities and curbing the ambitious dreams of a high-profile and high-cost cast of food court companions.
Granted, there is an abundance of non-Trojan Hospitality dining locations around campus, which will only grow with the completion of the new housing complex on the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Figueroa Street. Healthy options on Figueroa are scarce, however, leaving students to choose between greasy drive-throughs at 2 a.m. Also, for those who depend on university financial aid to defer food costs, or those whose parents would be much more inclined to provide discretionary/dining funds over straight-cash-homie, the convenience of having on-campus retail dining available daily is immense.
Trojan Hospitality has done a great job in providing the student body with new options in recent years, with the opening of The Lab, Rosso’s and McKay’s. But the next, and more important, step is to provide students with full days of service at some venues. The buildings that house these dining establishments are already built, or in the process of being built. Even in the aftermath of an economic downturn, would furnishing an extra 20 hours of wages for all willing food vendors really take that big a bite out of the budget?
Odds are, probably not, especially if there’s a strong showing of hungry undergrads coming to get their Tutor on every weekend.
Adding in fresh new options to the Campus Center’s arsenal of dining venues is an appetizing prospect. In a perfect world, we would be able to have our individually packaged fast-food cake and eat it seven days a week. But realistically, if substituting in a lesser quality franchise or even one fewer restaurant in the new student center would allow for hours that extended into the weekend and lengthened the “normal” weekday hours, it would make sense for the USG and Trojan Hospitality to sink their teeth into such a proposal.
Soojin Yoon is a junior majoring in public relations. His column, “Boy Meets Word,” runs Thursdays.