August 18, 2019 | 73° F

Restaurants at Rutgers student centers face challenges from competition, keeping up with trends

Photo by Curstine Guevarra |

 Each of the student centers on campus include restaurants that are not part of Rutgers Dining Services or accept meal swipes. Workers at these restaurants have experienced increased competition from food trucks and other restaurants opening nearby. 

Restaurants at the student centers are a hot commodity for those who prioritize convenience or want an alternative to dining halls, but competition from outside vendors and the potential increase of rent may cause problems for these restaurants in the future. 

Rachel Johnson, a supervisor for the restaurants at the Livingston Student Center, said roughly 3,500 students frequent its facilities each day. Out of the three places to get food — Sbarro’s, Dunkin Donuts and the Rock Café — approximately 1,100 students make a daily purchase from Dunkin Donuts.

“In the morning time, usually it’s the busiest here for sandwiches and Dunkin Donuts’ breakfast. Sbarro’s will probably get busier around noon for lunch time and the Rock Café sees a similar number around that same time frame,” she said. “Usually when students get out of classes, that’s when we see the biggest rush.”

Similar activity for peak hours extends to restaurants within the College Avenue Student Center. Yolanda Ramos, an associate for King Pita Palace, sees an increase in students during lunch hour (noon to 1 p.m.), with approximately 80 to 100 individuals visiting on a given day. Ramos also gave some insight on the gradual decrease of activity within the College Avenue Student Center compared to previous years. 

“There’s a lot of vendors now, separate vendors, trucks and all that, so it takes away from our businesses here at the student center,” Ramos said. 

Most recently, Elevation Burger is a new restaurant that opened up at The Yard @ College Avenue last December. With the restaurants at the Yard just a few blocks down from the student center, vying for traction among the student body is a challenge many associates are paying attention to for the foreseeable future. 

Challenges within the student centers come in other forms such as keeping up with the trends of college students. When it comes to catering to college students, Johnson said there was always a need to know what was current.

“Just knowing what they like, and then the students kind of keep you up with the trends as well, so that we know how to adapt to their likings and what their preferences are. I think a lot of students are on the healthy kick now, so different things such as smoothies, sandwiches and the types of bread we offer — such as whole wheat over white bread,” she said.

Out of King Pita Palace, Wendy’s, Gerlanda's and Subway, Wendy’s is the most popular restaurant at the College Avenue Student Center, which Tionna Carson, an associate at the restaurant, said garnered more than 50 customer visits an hour.

Wendy’s “4 for $4” value special is one of the reasons for its success. Skylar Wan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she preferred going to Wendy’s because it was affordable. 

“For just $4, you get a reasonable amount. I feel like it would be nice if we got another value option similar to what Wendy’s offers,” she said. “It can get tiresome eating at Wendy’s all the time, but it’s kind of difficult to justify eating at other places — whereas money kind racks up if you eat at other places instead.” 

On the other hand, Nicholas LaBelle, a Rutgers Business School sophomore, believes the restaurants at the student centers are not sufficient enough.

“I feel that the lack of agency and choice is a travesty for the institution of our size, and as such, it should be addressed. That is all,” he said.

While uncertainty looms in the peripheral future for restaurants at the student centers, Kelvyn Leon, an associate at Subway, said he prefers to take each day in strides and to just focus on the benefits that come with their jobs for now. 

“Working here …  you meet so many great people. There’s always a downside to things, but you just got to be cool with it,” he said.

Davin Tan

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