Spangler Food Court Crowds Continue

As a morning of LVDM and Creating Modern Capitalism courses wound down in Aldrich Monday, HBS Director of Administrative Services Robert Breslow stood in the rotunda outside the Spangler Food Court and checked the walkie-talkie he carried one last time.

The radios, which linked Breslow to a half-dozen other HBS staffers and representatives of cafeteria operator Restaurant Associates, are the school’s last line of defense in fighting lines at Spangler &-feeding Breslow and others the information they’ll need to direct students away from bottlenecks and to food options that are underutilized.

“We feel that if people have all the information and they still choose to eat here, they’ll be able to live with any waits better,” Breslow said, as the crush of hungry first-year students descended on the rotunda //, and he began diverting students to the Grille, where lines were short.
But while Breslow’s presence at the entrance to the food court is becoming familiar to first-year students, it is only the final piece of a traffic-management puzzle that has included new menus, new outlets, and additional cashiers.

Boosting Spangler flow
At its heart, the crowding in the Spangler food court can be attributed to the fact that it has proven far more popular than expected.
The building was designed with the assumption that 54% of students would eat in the food court each day, with the remainder heading towards the Grille downstairs. In practice, almost three-quarters&-72% &-of students choose to eat at the Food Court every day.

In hard numbers, the food court was designed to handle 365 students in a peak half-hour period. In the first lunch hour during Foundations, 560 people passed through between 11:45 and 12:15.

In response, HBS officials installed two more cash registers, reserved for students using Crimson Cash to pay for their food, in the dining hall. The card transactions take only five seconds per person to process, compared with 30 seconds per person with cash.

In addition, they have worked with Restaurant Associates to lift the targets for the number of people who can be served per minute at each food station, and arranged for a sous chef to “float” within the food court, and pitch in to help stations where backups are mounting, especially at the Asian and fresh sandwich positions.
However, ultimately the amount of space available imposes replica watches a limit on how many people can be served.

“It gets crowded [behind the service counter],” Breslow said. “You’ll get people bumping into each other, and getting into each other’s way.”
But even without unlimited help, it appears the crush is being managed, on a recent afternoon, Breslow monitored students’ waiting times, and found it took nine minutes for someone to go through the fresh sandwich line and check out. A ten-minute wait is considered the maximum that is reasonable.

If slowdowns continue to occur, other changes, like having students pre-order their sandwiches to a person who will fill out order forms for the sandwich makers, may be considered.

Pushing other options
That limitation is why officials have paid so much attention to marketing other options for students, like the Shad Caf‚, where students can get fresh sandwiches and pre-made salads, or the Aldrich Food Cart outside room 108, which will be offering pre-made salads and sandwiches.
In addition to a sign outside the food court listing the options, Restaurant Associates has produced a new glossy, four-color pamphlet that is available in the dining and residence halls, that outlines the different facilities and their specialties.

“Our goal is to get 100 people to use each of those options,” Breslow said, adding that the Aldrich cart is expected to be particularly popular among elective curriculum students who have less time available for their lunches.

The other major option is the Spangler Grille, directly below the food court. “We’re trying to position the Grille as the quick-service alternative,” Breslow said.

In addition, to attract more students, the menu there has been changed since the Spring and Summer, with a fresh-made Taqueria station replacing the “A La Carte” menu at lunch time. The “A La Carte” menu will return at dinner. However, Breslow said he and the Restaurant Associates officials will be monitoring the station to make sure it does not become a backlog of its own. “There’s a tradeoff. More choices can mean slower service,” he said.

Managing Seating
The final piece of the lunchtime equation is making sure people have a place to go once they get their lunches. The main Spangler dining hall has 354 seats. Thus far, the fact that there has been no rain during the lunch hours has meant that students could use the 104 seats (up from 88 in the original design) on the Spangler patio as well.

But knowing that the good weather won’t last forever, officials are preparing for the end of the outdoor-dining season, adding 40 seats to the often-empty back room at the Grille, and encouraging students to consider eating in the project rooms upstairs, where there are a total of 254 seats.

Determining necessary seating capacity is different than the calculations needed in the food court, because the rush of people ordering food peaks in half-hour periods, while most students eat for about an hour.
Overall, administrators are expecting the daily flow of people to fall into a routine in a few weeks, and Breslow anticipates the walkie-talkies will no longer be necessary after RC students are assigned to their sections and begin work on the required curriculum.

“What’s going to happen is, this is going to balance out,” he said. “People are going to figure out that coming to the food court right after class is going to be pretty much the same experience every day, and they’ll decide whether they want to do that, or if they want to run some errands and come a little later.”