I’ll never forget the smiling, cheerful face of the Marketplace employee who swiped us in every Friday morning. By this time of week, we were stressed, tired and ready for the week to end. But such a simple thing as a smile and a hello made everything a little, well, happier.
Sure, freshmen complain about the Marketplace from time to time. Eating at the same establishment every day is bound to make students long for the increased choice and selection of an upperclassman meal plan. Yet nearly every upperclassman I know tells freshmen the same thing, “I miss the Marketplace a lot. Enjoy it while you can.”
The food is good, and the space is inviting. But neither of those is what makes the Marketplace so special. It’s the people, the environment. Never again in our Duke career will we get the chance to see all of our friends—and, indeed, all of our class—every night in the same place. As we get older, we get busier. Duke students tend to replace sit down meals with friends with a sandwich to-go in between meetings and classes.
In the midst of the West Union construction and the loss of multiple vendors on campus, much of Duke Dining and Duke Student Government’s focus has been on improving the West Campus dining experience while we wait for the new West Union to be finished. We’ve expanded vendor hours on Central and West and made improvements to the Penn Pavilion.
Yet we realize that, while West Union construction necessitated that most of our focus be on West Campus, we couldn’t forget about the Marketplace, where 30 percent of our campus eats the majority of their meals. We recognized the importance of students and the Marketplace staff making meaningful connections in order to live up to Duke Dining’s motto of “more than a meal.”
Our idea is simple: At the beginning of the school year, a few weeks after the new freshmen arrive on campus, we will hold a “Meet the Marketplace” event. Employees will be featured in videos, sit down for discussions with students and suggest their favorite recipes for the students to sample. The event will focus on students getting to know the staff—not just knowing their name, but really getting to know the people they interact with at the Marketplace on a personal level. “Meet the Marketplace” will last all week and culminate in a celebration at the end of the week.
Senator Priyanka Venkanagari, Vice President for Services Lavanya Sunder—who was the one who came up with the idea—and I met with Stanley Lyons, a long-time employee at the Marketplace, to gauge his opinion on the idea. When we did, he told us how many students he has personally gotten to know over the years, and how many names and stories he remembers. He agreed that student-staff connections were important to enhancing the Marketplace experience. Not only could this project improve students’ opinion of the Marketplace, but it could also make the employees more excited about doing their job each day.
We are not so naïve as to think that one week’s worth of programming will realize the goal of having each student forge a relationship with an employee, or several, at the Marketplace. But we hope that by starting the process of putting a name and a story to a face, we can kick off an incredible year at the Marketplace and combat the age-old complaint that going to the Marketplace every day is “too repetitive” as the year goes on. Hopefully, with the support of the Duke Dining administration and the Marketplace staff, “Meet the Marketplace” week can become a reality and help make every dining experience at the Marketplace “more than a meal.”
Billy Silk is a Trinity sophomore and DSG senator for services. His column is the fourth installment in a semester-long series of biweekly columns written by members of Duke Student Government. Send Billy a message on Twitter @DukeStudentGov.