WSJ gives Bartlett Dining Commons three stars

By Sean Wereley

The Four Seasons. Everest. Charlie Trotter’s. And now Bartlett has received the showy reviews usually assigned to eateries that cater to a more mature clientele. In the eyes of The Wall Street Journal, it was time to analyze what undergraduates get out of their meal plans, with tuitions skyrocketing yearly and students growing more and more finicky about what they put into their bodies.

Last week the Journal reviewed food offerings at several universities across the country. Colleges such as Yale University, the University of Southern California, and Columbia University all had their services reviewed by a local chef, and students at the campuses took part in rating their school’s fare. The unorthodox survey, which was covered by Fox News and the Chicago Sun-Times on campus, highlighted the rising importancethe dining halls play in undergraduates’ lives; nine billion dollars were spent on college eateries last year, roughly what Americans annually spend in elegant restaurants.

The U of C received three stars out of four for its dining hall cuisine. The review mainly focused on Bartlett Commons, which was singled out among the dining halls for its $15 million price tag and diversity of food. Revamped last year, Bartlett is the crown jewel of Campus Dining Services, featuring diverse menus for those interested in everything from veganism to home-style cooking, creating what fourth-year in the College Jerome Van Der Ghinst called a “culinary nirvana.”

Tamilia Reed, a third-year in the College generally agreed with the rating.

“As dining hall food goes, it is tasty and generally well-prepared. However, one can only eat the same food for so long before the food starts to taste plain bad,” Reed said. “The food never changes. Although students are given a choice between several different meal lines such as the Flavors of Asia, Global, Harvest, etc. that doesn’t matter after the seventh week.”

Reed gave the serving staff at Bartlett higher marks.

“They are kind, attentive and entertaining during the 30 minute wait in line during peak lunch and dinner hours,” she said. “They always serve with a smile. Also, meals to go was a stellar idea. When I am about to fall asleep in class there is always a Bartlett dessert on the desk to perk me back up.”

Joseph Lin, a third-year in the College, said that the survey was pretty accurate, even though the Journal focused mostly on the newer Bartlett.

“Bartlett looks more upmarket and sophisticated, but in terms of quality of the food, I think the other two dining halls are just as good,” Lin said.

A typical complaint among students is that food prices remain too high. The newspaper cited the high prices for Bartlett lunch—up to $9 for a meal, with salad going for $5.80 per pound—but also detailed some clever ways in which students take advantage of the system, from getting a separate cup for ice to eating some of the salad before it is put on the checkout scale.

Steve Klass, the vice president and dean of students in the University, said that the Journal’s study was well-timed.

“I thought the Journal’s angle was rather unique,” Klass said. “I believe they intended to focus on the total transformation of student dining across the country, and the whole new world in dining that many universities are opening up to their students. Gone are the days when students would line up in the cafeteria waiting for three kinds of mystery meat.”

As for the U of C’s standing, Klass said that Chicago compared well with similar schools such as Duke, Notre Dame, and Washington University.

“If you would look at the full report, we actually did exceptionally well,” he said.

“We were among the best in quality of food, and Bartlett received high marks for its atmosphere. Very few schools received four stars.”

Klass emphasized that while the Journal’s review was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Campus Dining Services will look at the findings seriously.

“I wouldn’t say that we are satisfied with our high marks. Satisfaction connotes a sense of complacency, and we are all looking for new ways to better serve students,” Klass said. “With the Dining Advisory Board and the advice of regular dining students, we will continue the innovations we have made. We will not stop here.”

The only school to receive four stars was Yale University, whose Berkeley College was lauded for its gothic atmosphere and healthy food options.

“Yale, in particular, achieved that rating due to their resources—their dining rooms have plush red-leather seating and chandeliers, and an all-organic menu,” Klass said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly the number of undergraduates on a dining plan to warrant such an expense.”

Jessica Fabbri, a third-year in the College, was somewhat less than ecstatic about the Journal’s findings.

“I think some of the money that went into Bartlett must have gone into greasing The Wall Street Journal’s palms,” she said.