Author: Rachel Stober
With trays in hand, students spill out from the nightly Marketplace rush onto Branca Patio six days a week. On Saturday evenings, the students are conspicuously absent, replaced with well-groomed adults in sharp suits and dresses. On tables, flowers, cloth napkins and elegant silverware take the place of plastic trays. There are flashing colored lights and tantalizing plates of food and no trace of college life to be found.
Each Saturday at 2 p.m., the Marketplace closes early, leaving scant options for students who want an on-campus dinner or—for those who stumbled down to “breakfast” at noon—a late lunch. While parties and other events frequently occupy the space during this time, many students are left wondering why this vital campus facility closes on Saturdays and what goes on when students aren’t allowed inside.
According to Associate Vice President for Hospitality Services Amy Munoz, Saturday nights have always been the slowest night for campus dining and therefore the most opportune time to use dining facilities for events. Outside events generate a large source of revenue for the college, and as the largest dining option on campus, the Marketplace serves as the venue for most events. “The main reason the Marketplace closes early on Saturday is to give a large space of availability for student events,” Tiger Cooler manager Robert Starec said. “It’s the only facility that’s large enough to accommodate the attendance that’s expected for those events, so that is why every Saturday is blocked off, in case there are student events that need to be programmed.” Such events include sports banquets and other special occasions like Winter Formal and Martin Luther King Jr. Challenge Day.
In total, these student-oriented events use Gresham Dining Hall, the main seating room in the Marketplace, about six times a year, according to Munoz. For the remainder of Saturdays, the space is open to the public for private events. “Beyond the dates reserved for college events, we fill in the other Saturdays with mostly weddings, but there are also Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Quinceañeras and anniversary parties,” Munoz said.
Between outside rentals and student events, the Marketplace is booked about 38 weeks of the year. On unbooked Saturdays, the Marketplace remains closed. Munoz said closing the Marketplace even when it is not being used helps prevent confusion for students. “I almost think opening it some Saturdays would be more disruptive than keeping it closed. Students know that every Saturday night these are the options that are available, instead of having to wonder, ‘Is the Marketplace open? Why are they not open?’ and all of that,” Munoz said. “Consistency is a good thing. You’re not always wondering where you have to eat.”
Because few students would eat at the Marketplace if it were open on Saturdays and because all private events are required to use Occidental’s in-house catering service, renting out the Marketplace brings a substantial amount of revenue to the school. According to Munoz, this money does not stay in the campus dining budget but rather contributes to Occidental’s general funds. “It doesn’t just stay in this department,” Munoz said. “If the college didn’t have that money, it would have to make up for it in some other way. If right now we were going to change what we did, there would be an economic impact.” At about 13 percent, catering is the second biggest source of revenue for Campus Dining, compared to 70 percent that comes from student meal plans.
“I like to say that students are getting the benefit in more ways than one. They are getting the benefit of the funds for college refurbishment and programs. And if they themselves need a space to have a beautiful indoor event in the future, that’s where it is,” Munoz said. Associate Director of Campus Dining Judy Runyon believes another thing students can gain from the Marketplace’s early closure is a chance to try something different. “We really tried to promote eating at the other facilities because we do have three facilities to eat at. It’s nice to give students variety and make sure they see other places,” Runyon said. “I know if I were a student, I would enjoy the change of pace. I think it’s a positive; it forces people out of the box to try other options.”
The first and most popular option is the Tiger Cooler, which features a menu including pizza, burgers, sandwiches, salads, sushi, a plethora of desserts and various packaged snacks. However, compared to the Marketplace, the Cooler offers fewer choices and much of the menu is what many students consider junk food. “It’s mostly not healthy food unless you get a boxed salad. There really aren’t that many options,” Kate Handley (first-year) said.
The Cooler limits its menu on Saturday due to a smaller kitchen staff and more customers. According to Starec, the Cooler’s staff on Saturday evenings is less than half of what it is on a weekday, leaving the workload to one supervisor, two cooks and one cashier. “To keep them from being overwhelmed by the full menu, we limited the choices to the very basic sandwiches, the burgers, the grilled cheese: things that don’t require a lot of detail,” Starec said. In addition to working with a smaller staff on Saturday night, the Cooler also has to accommodate the crowds that trickle over from on-campus events like sports games and programming events.
“We have to take the whole picture into account; it’s not just about feeding the students, we also have to be aware of events that are taking place on campus,” Starec said. “Whether it be student events, performances on campus or athletic events, all of that plays into what we offer and how we offer it.”
To try to make up for the limited menu, the Cooler offers weekend specials such as baked pasta and hot wings that they cannot offer during the week. Although the specials give students more options than usual, compared to the Marketplace the range and quality of the food is limited. Whereas on any given night the Marketplace offers vegan, gluten-free and organic options, the Cooler’s specials are typically grubby diner fare. “I want something healthier and more nourishing than that,” Liz Wells (sophomore) said.
Until three years ago, the Cooler was the only dining facility open on Saturday nights. As the student body increased in recent years, Munoz said it was obvious that the Cooler would no longer be sufficient to satisfy Saturday dining demand. To diffuse dinner traffic and give students more options, Campus Dining introduced Saturday night dinners at Rangeview Hall in 2008. Now in its third year, the service at Rangeview operates from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. and serves a buffet-style meal for $11. According to Munoz, an average of about 120 students eat at Rangeview each week. Although the meal is now a popular alternative to the Cooler
, many find $11 too high a price. “The Rangeview dinner is really expensive, and since I’m on meal plan D spending $11 on a meal is a little too much for every single week,” Larkin Grant (senior) said. “It’s fun to have a buffet, but it’s pretty expensive for one plate of food. At the homestyle station at the Marketplace, one plate of food is $4.50 but at Rangeview it’s $11.”
Grant, who has been a Resident Advisor to first-years for three years, believes the high price and lack of awareness about Rangeview’s Saturday services prevent more students from going. “A lot of first-years don’t know about it yet because it’s in a dorm, and it’s not advertised all that much,” Grant said. “They actually started it while I was at Oxy, and it’s nice to have a choice between two eating facilities, but it’s still a really expensive alternative.”
While Occidental students eat at Rangeview Hall or the Cooler on Saturday nights, newlyweds celebrate their union elsewhere on campus. Weddings are one of the most popular reasons that outside groups rent on-campus locations. The size of the weddings starts at about 100 people and caps off at the Johnson Student Center’s maximum capacity of 284. For the ceremony, roughly a third use Herrick while another third choose an outdoor site. The remaining one-third of couples have the service at a church off campus and come to Occidental for the reception. In selecting an outdoor site, Munoz said people are very creative and have utilized areas from the music quad to the Collins Admissions House to the Olive Grove. “There are a lot of hidden gems on campus,” said Assistant Dean of Admission Laura Tokuza-Arenstein ‘05, who married her husband this past summer in the courtyard of Booth Hall.
When it comes to the reception, choices are limited to locations proximate to a kitchen. “Oxy’s catering is not in the business of moving food,” Munoz said.
Most receptions take place in Gresham Dining Hall, on Branca Patio or use a combination of the two, but one might hardly recognize the facilities once they have been cleared of their usual tables and chairs and ornamented with various decorations. “I don’t know if people have seen Branca Patio when they put up all these flower balls and lights, but they make it really pretty,” Marah Bragdon (junior), who has worked as a banquet assistant, said.
Although customers pay a fee for the facilities as well as additional charges for labor, tables and chairs, about 80 percent of total revenue comes from catering charges. According to Munoz, Occidental requires its clients to use their catering service to ensure that event run smoothly. “Dealing with caterers who don’t know the facility can be difficult for all the logistics and for providing the foundation you need for a caterer to work on,” Munoz said. “Also, we simply don’t allow anyone else in our kitchen—it’s our office, so to speak. It’s not as safe, not as practical and in a lot of ways it makes it more expensive for the people who would be paying for it too.”
The price of an Occidental wedding works out to around $50 to $80 per person, a cost both Munoz and Tokuza-Arenstein agree is more than reasonable.
“Weddings can become extremely expensive, and Occidental offers excellent accommodations for very reasonable prices,” Tokuza-Arenstein said.
Although many schools limit rental privileges to current students, staff and alumni, Occidental has no such policy. Nevertheless, most of the people that come to Occidental to wed have a connection to the college. Tokuza-Arenstein is a prime example. “We wanted to have the wedding at Oxy because it’s a special place for us both. We met here, we both went to school here, my dad went to school here, I work here. It made sense to us in many ways. Plus, Oxy is a beautiful place,” Tokuza-Arenstein said.
Munoz said most people who select Occidental for their wedding ceremony or reception have a sentimental reason. “If you’re going to come to a college campus instead of a country club or a hotel or a wedding site, you come here because you’re connected here. If they’re not connected to Oxy, they either came to a wedding here and really liked it or they live in the neighborhood and grew up around Oxy,” Munoz said. “We’re a place for special events for people at all stages of their lives.”
No matter how special these events are, student sentiment may always remain a little unfavorable. “Love is more important than food, but on a small scale, it’s really annoying,” Grant said. “I’d rather have people celebrate their love there than get to eat a meal. But on the other hand, the Marketplace for a wedding? Really?”
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