Grove’s Half-Baked Revival Leaves a Bad Taste

By principle of perpetual student brokeness, free food goes fast on any college campus. But much like drugs or alcohol, a complimentary slice of pizza is just as quickly consumed as its origin is forgotten.

That’s why, when the Grove busted open its doors and fed 2,200 hungry students at its grand reopening last week, it needed something more than a free teriyaki chicken sandwich to turn a line full of deal seekers into loyal, coffee-toting Groveheads. It needed branding and professionalism.

Not that serving up $6,000 worth of free meals — funded by A.S. Council in an attempt to pull the struggling coffeehouse out of its $140,000 debt — was a poor attempt at forming a fan base. Had the effort been pulled off properly, it might have even charmed students into visiting the Grove on a regular basis. But unfortunately, the execution of the Grove’s weeklong free-for-all — like its BBQ chicken pizzas — was half-baked.

In business, first impressions make or break you. When there are no giant banners or balloons to remind students where they got their free food, they won’t remember. When coupons are printed on cheap printouts rather than glossy, colorful paper, they’ll be crumpled and forgotten in a book bag. When meals are served on flimsy paper plates and customers herded through a line like cattle, nothing will stop us from deeming the Grove a slow, out-of-the-way cafeteria.

True, part of the Grove’s unsuccessful presentation lies fault to the business’s obscure location and maze-like setup, but we can’t help but wonder why a little bit more thought wasn’t put into the whole thing.

If it’s a matter of money — though it hardly is when A.S. Council is your personal sugar daddy — the Grove could’ve cut one day of free food to fund some snazzy decorations. Or it could have saved money by actually tracking who had already received a free meal (rather than allow hungry students to come back for fourths).

Even if employees didn’t have time to add some supplementary sparkle, they could have at least cleared the old equipment out of the indoor lounge and clearly labeled it as part of the cafe. We’re not asking for trendy Loft-like furnishing, just a clean, professional environment that gives customers some hint at what the Grove’s all about.

All complaints about aesthetics aside, it seems the Grove is struggling with something much more basic: providing quick service and tasty meals. A week after the grand opening hubbub, a couple editorial board members returned to observe the coffeehouse in action. Some members were served quickly, but weren’t impressed with the food. Another waited a half-hour for their sandwich and witnessed a slew of order mistakes, one of which resulted in a frustrated costumer asking for his money back and leaving with nothing. This all while a Grove employee was indulging in his own sandwich behind the counter.

If a staff of four can’t sort out a few sandwich orders, it seems this $6,000 grand reopening might have been premature, if not all for nothing.

It’s obvious Grove Student Manager Thomas Frank hasn’t thought out an efficient operations system to prepare for the foot traffic he hoped the Grove would gain. And if he can’t shape up on this front, it won’t be long until the Grove has pissed off enough people that it’s right back where it started.

It doesn’t matter how alternative a student-run business is; if a hungry student has to wait 30 minutes for a mediocre sandwich during his lunch break, next time he’ll just go to Subway. There’s no doubt that will happen. The real question is: How much more will the A.S. Council shell out to save the Grove next time?

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