Cornell Dining welcomed Cornell students back to campus with modifications to the Straight’s Ivy Room cafeteria.
Students may have been surprised by various changes to both the menu offerings as well as the physical setup of the University’s historic eatery, including a new “Confusion” station featuring Asian fusion options, a “Straight from the Garden” salad bar and a fresh sushi station. In addition, the Tex Mex station has combined with the “Burgers and Sandwiches” station.
Besides the food, the sitting area also underwent a face lift. Although the tables are the same physical tables as were used before, they have been cut shorter. There is also new “soft” seating along the walls of the main room. To the chagrin of sports fans, the TV that often showed ESPN in the main eating room, was moved to the smaller section behind the pizza station; however, it is not yet hooked up.
The process of making these changes to the Ivy Room began last fall when Cornell Dining hired an outside company, Kaizen, to perform a strategic review of C.U. Dining’s offerings on campus, according to Gail Finan, director of dining and retail services. In light of the financial crisis and President Skorton’s October 2008 letter to the Cornell community regarding the University’s financial situation, Cornell Dining took an operational look at its performance to see how it could improve.
Finan said that Kaizen judged that the Ivy Room was “underutilized” and the consulting company made broad recommendations for improvement, pointing to three areas of major criticisms.
First they said, the Ivy Room’s original food offerings were all very “heavy” offerings, and C.U. Dining should make changes in the interest of healthier eating.
Finan continued, explaining that, “Seating capacity campus-wide is a problem. The [long] benches were inefficient.”
Thirdly, Finan remarked, “[Cornell Dining] has to have revenue enhancement…We know the value of Willard Straight Hall and we don’t want to lose it.”
As a result of these criticisms, C.U. Dining, in conjunction with the S.A. Dining Committee, made various changes to the Ivy Room. In particular, Finan said, “[The S.A.] played a large role particularly regarding the tables.”
“They are the same tables,” she said, but now they are “more welcoming, more flexible.”
“There is a passion for the Ivy Room tables that may or may not be real,” so in the interests of sustainability and of keeping the original tables, the furniture was altered but re-used.
As for the T.V., it was moved for “aesthetics.”
“Now you can see a beautiful window,” Finan said.
As for the food offerings, Finan said that C.U. Dining looked at the register reports and moved the five most popular sandwiches upstairs to Cascadeli rather than eliminating the sandwiches completely.
C.U. Dining also looked at the demography of the incoming class and saw that there is a large Asian American contingent, spurring the creation of the Asian fusion station.
The pizza and grill menus “were not touched,” Finan said, and although “there is a misconception that all the Mexican food is gone, it’s not.”
“We’re talking about eating healthier and trying to build the menus around that,” Finan added.
While C.U. sees these changes to the Ivy Room as improvements, students’ reactions to said changes have been mixed.
Jessica Bloom ’11 liked the change in menu.
“The wasabi wrap was good and healthier than the spinners,” Bloom said, adding that the shorter tables are more conducive to eating with friends.
Zach Zemlan ’11 was cognizant of the shift in focus to healthy eating.
“[C.U. Dining] went in a healthier direction,” Zemlan said. “It’s different.”
Natalia Sanchez ’10 also liked the new setup of the facility, and said that “[The Ivy Room] looks a lot bigger. I didn’t even notice that the T.V. was gone.”
Others, however, voiced their discontent about the changes to the menus.
Joshua Mabry ’10 noted that although it’s healthier, it’s also more expensive.
“You used to get cornbread, now only the crackers,” Mabry said. “Before, it was cheap and lots of calories. Now it’s healthier but [more expensive].”
Jake Solomon ’12 said, “I don’t like it. I think they missed the mark. The two most popular [dishes] are now in one corner. It’s extremely packed. It doesn’t look as healthy as they wanted it to be.”
Echoing many students’ concerns about the change in the Mexican food, Sidra Irfan ’10 said, “It’s worse than before. I know what I want when I come [to the Ivy Room]. I miss the spinners.”
While working at the pizza station, José Ferrer, lead cook at the Ivy Room, explained his mixed feelings.
“I like the tables; it’s roomier,” he said. However, he continued, “I personally don’t like the menu changes. The spinner and the burrito — they were the most popular — are now in the busiest section with the longest lines.”
When asked about the impact of the changes to the Ivy Room, particularly regarding the overcrowding in The Grill/Tex-Mex corner of the dining area, Finan said, “It’s the first week of school so it’s premature to make a blanket statement.”
However, she explained, “Because Ivy Room is self-operated, there is flexibility to change.”
“We will keep an eye on [how it’s doing],” she said.