A Hungry Student’s Best Friend: The Rat

While I stand in the ever-growing lines to have my card swiped to get into the caf everyday for lunch, I like to utilize this average wait of three to six minutes to think about ways to alleviate this issue. I am sure I am not alone with feelings of irritation and confusion as to how the lines suddenly got so long. Long lines at the register mean long lines at the food stations, and the back up at the salad bar – which requires no food heating – continues to baffle me. I guess that gives me more time to think about how to solve the problem.

One of the ideas I have come up with is to expand the hours the caf is open. As an employee in the Vaughn Center, it is surprising how many students are turned away as they go to the caf after 8 p.m. during the week and 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday. As night classes become more popular due to the demand of limited classroom space, students’ schedules and eating habits are likely to change as well. The Grill 155 simply doesn’t offer us many healthy choices. The healthiest station in the Spartan Club – Fresh Creations – closes at 7:30 p.m. and isn’t even open on weekends.

A recent conversation with an editor of this paper led me to start thinking about another alternative – bring back the Rat! The Rat now offers a new option, the Empire State Grill. However, the hours of this establishment are limited until 2:30 p.m. The Rathskellar’s Boar’s Head and Starbucks close at 5 p.m. everyday. The Rathskellar, for those who have never been, offers expanded seating, soup, sandwiches and coffee. Until recently, a bar served beer for those students who are of drinking age. However, instead of patronizing low-cost drinking options at UT, students were lured away by the cheap pitchers of the Mousetrap.

The Rathskellar, especially in light of the crowds that flood the Vaughn Center at nearly every hour, seems like a great start to ease the problem of overcrowding. There is a lot of seating, and it now offers an expanded menu and more options. However, for reasons unbeknownst to me, the Rathskellar is not operated as a sensible dining alternative. The first problem is that meal exchanges cannot be used there. Students on the seven-meal plan pay about $7.32 for each meal, the 12 meal plan costs about $7.45 per meal, while the 15 meal plan costs about $6.30 per meal (these figures were calculated using my TI-30 and by subtracting the amount of Spartan dollars from the total price of a meal plan, based on 16 weeks on campus). A small sub and drink would certainly cost less than these prices, and limit lining the pockets of Sodexho with more of our money. By allowing meal exchanges in the Rat, students would have more options and crowding would be eased in the caf. In addition, sales in the Rat would likely rise.

Another idea would be to keep the deli open until 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. A lot of students with night classes in Plant Hall would be able to go down and grab a sandwich when the class ended instead of having to face being turned away from the caf at 7:58 p.m. because it was closing.

One final thought I have is to reopen the bar at the Rat. Dedicated readers of my column know that I love bars. They are an amazing opportunity for socializing and relaxing. A study funded by the Reason Foundation recently concluded that drinkers gain “social capital” and have potential for earning more at their jobs than non-drinkers. The Rat offers a superb setting for a bar. It has a great nostalgic feel, as well as the potential for raising school spirit if it were properly decorated. It also offers students a safe alternative to Ybor. We wouldn’t have to worry about a party bus coming to take us to the Rat, and our designated driver could be L.A.S.E.R. Team.

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