The recent menu changes in the Piasa Pub have spurred a broad range of debate among students. Pub customers no longer have the option of ordering “Create Your Own” sandwiches, onion rings, mini tacos, hot dogs or sourdough bread. The Pub’s inviting atmosphere has been a small haven for students desiring a wider variety of foods. From many students’ points of view, the Pub’s new menu seems more narrow and inflexible than before.
The Pub’s menu changed for several reasons. Pub Manager Mary Odhiambo desired to improve speed of service, staff training and ease of cooking for student workers. She said “I have over 80 workers in the Pub this quarter so you can imagine the amount of training. Also many of these workers may only work a two hour shift once a week, so it is difficult to really learn all the things needed to work in the Pub.” Odhiambo reasoned through the Pub’s menu changes from an all-inclusive perspective. She looked at the needs and preferences of student workers and customers as a whole. The diversity of work experiences among the student Pub workers makes the training process challenging. Odhiambo also said, “You have such an overturn of students.” Thus, consistent food choices are crucial to speed of service and productive staff training. Without the hassle of educating new Pub workers about nitty-gritty sandwich concoctions, cooking is now much easier. These structural changes also make the Pub congruent to menus found in mainstream restaurants.
The loss of the “Create Your Own” stirs opinions among not only customers, but among Pub workers as well. Junior Lily Jones, a student Pub worker, said “There’s a level of fun in preparing food that’s been diminished.” Pub staff members used to thoughtfully tailor their cooking skills to satisfy the customers’ specific preferences.
According to Jones, speed of service stands unaffected by the recent menu changes. The present issue rests in a reoccurring shortage of certain food items and of space in which to cook these items. This problem stems from customers ordering the same foods over and over again. Jones said: “I kind of understand the idea of [changing the menu to decrease] the amount of time it takes to do things, but now everyone’s just ordering the same thing. Now we have six quesadillas down, and there’s no room to do that on the grill. When people order a lot of the same thing, it ends up taking the same amount of time.”
An exchange with another student Pub worker revealed a unique insight. Sophomore Pub worker Ifi Xifre Villar said: “I don’t think it’s [menu changes that are] a problem. I’ve never been in a situation where people have hated the menu.” Most staff members stated that the Pub is not losing favorability due to menu changes. However, Xifre said, “I work the same shift I used to work last year, and we seem to be getting less people coming in.” It is possible that customers have been taken aback by the pub’s removal of “Create Your Own” sandwiches. However, the addition of the Convenience store could also be contributing factor to this decrease in the Pub’s traffic.
Over the years, the Pub has undergone many restructurings. During winter break 2002, the Pub went through a massive renovation. A substantial amount of thought and care went into remodeling the countertops, seating arrangements, soft seating area and awnings. These renovations, along with the ability for students to be able to charge to their meal cards, versus the once cash only payment method, made the Pub all the more inviting. Since the inception of these changes, the pub has continued to be a popular hot spot on campus. Its mouthwatering milkshakes are the prime attraction among students. Odhiambo said “We recently added New York style cheesecake topping and Kit Kat pieces.”
In discussing points of menu development and overall restructuring, Odhiambo said that “We want to continue to move forward in being more green. We’ve made changes already and we’re continually looking and trying to do what we can to have things be as green as possible.” Except for boats and small cups, the pub distributes biodegradable and environmentally friendly cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons et cetera. This change is concordant with current Green efforts and reflects Dining Services’ desire to be innovative and forward-thinking.
Odhiambo has heard little to no feedback about the menu changes. She invites emails with questions, perspectives or other ideas that will help sustain the positive atmosphere of the Pub.