This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.
I tend to have a soft spot for the Caf. I feel like a lot of the criticisms about Mercer’s dining primarily focuses on the Caf’s flaws while letting everything wrong with the restaurants or the Farm go without even a second thought. I can’t be the only person to be grossed out that the Farm’s ice cream bowls are always dirty, right?
The Caf has its benefits! The staff is friendly, it’s close to a good portion of the dorms and the buffet-style is super convenient. That being said, the inconveniences of the Caf are a lot more prevalent and make it a far less desirable place for lunch on campus.
If you happen to frequent the Caf enough, you may have noticed the abrupt temporary switch to plastic utensils, plastic cups and Styrofoam plates a few weeks ago. I asked workers at the Caf, and they confirmed that the dishwasher had broken that week, necessitating the temporary switch.
Of course, that brings up the question. Why does a school with over 8,000 students, over half of whom are undergrads, not have a backup dishwasher, or at least a plan that doesn’t rely on a massive amount of Styrofoam plates?
There’s also irony in the fact that this immediately followed the Caf’s switch to reusable to-go containers in an attempt to be more eco-friendly, which was quite a contrast with the amount of waste one can imagine ended up in the trash.
Along with that, students with dietary restrictions struggle to find food to eat at the Caf, because of the limited options. Mercer Dining literally had a day for the Caf to offer meatless options as a special event because of the typical lack of options for vegan and vegetarian students.
One of the most exciting things to me about independence last year was the ability to control how I ate, but I wasn’t given much of an option at the Caf. Eating healthy is a challenge, especially if you want it to also taste good. It doesn’t help that a lot of the time, the Caf’s food will be sitting out for quite awhile, unless you go by the deli or the grill.
No matter how often you do or don’t eat at the Caf, you’ve either heard about or complained about the hours. The Caf closes at 8 p.m. every night, which doesn’t seem problematic until you realize that there are classes that don’t end until 8 p.m. or later during the week. There are also organizations and clubs that start at 8 p.m. or later, along with students working or studying later.
One of my friends had a class that lasted until 8:30 p.m. last semester and another that doesn’t end until 8 p.m. this semester. I worked the football games and I always had to find some other way to get dinner afterwards, because the Caf was always closed. At another point, I had to resort to leaving campus to get dinner after an interview on one Friday, because everything was closed. With so many students clearly still active on campus far past 8 p.m., the fact that one of the two food options that offer unlimited food and meal swipes close far earlier than most students retire is an issue.
Most of these are not new issues for the Caf either, which raises the question of why Mercer Dining refuses to address any of them, despite student complaints. Ultimately the Caf, though well-meaning, is a lot more inconvenient for students than the other dining choices that offer better backup plans, food options and hours.