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Oak Room's lower prices yield faster sales

After firing its manager in November and making major changes to its menu, the Oak Room is off to a strong start this semester, said Dining Services administrators.

"It's a little early to tell totally, but so far the feedback has been pretty good," said David Randolph, ARAMARK Corp.'s district manager.

Students and faculty are dining there in far greater numbers this semester, which both Randolph and Director of Dining Services Jim Wulforst attribute to lower prices and greater selection. Over 150 people ate dinner at the Oak Room on its opening night two weeks ago, and dinner crowds have consistently exceeded 100 since, Wulforst said. That number has increased from just 70 to 80 people nightly last semester.

Jen Neilson, marketing program manager for Dining Services, credits that increase to positive word-of-mouth.

Last fall, the Oak Room--taken over by food service corporation ARAMARK over the summer--debuted to less-than-glowing reviews. Students complained about high prices and limited menu selection.

Faced with dwindling business and unsatisfied customers, ARAMARK removed Maggie Radzwiller as manager of the Oak Room and replaced her with Skye Alexander, who had been working as an assistant manager since last summer.

This semester's menu features seven new entrees and four new appetizers.

"We've added more deli, considerably more sandwiches," Randolph said.

Wulforst said students report that the menu is great and the food even better.

"This semester, there's no word to describe how much better it's gotten. Leaps and bounds, I guess," said sophomore Nathaniel Holley. "The menu seems more thoughtful this semester."

The prices are markedly lower than last term's, but the food quality remains unchanged, Randolph said.

"The customer count should rise substantially to offset the lower cost," he said.

The eatery's management has also attempted to offset the cost of lower prices by removing some of the finer touches to last semester's Oak Room. For example, the linen tablecloths have been removed in the main dining room.

But the restaurant has kept the new tables and carpeting added last summer, and they agreed that those changes have given many students a more positive impression of the Oak Room than in years past.

"It's a lot nicer than before," said junior Natasha Hanshaw, who said she did not eat at the Oak Room last term, but did go to the restaurant before last summer's renovations.

Randolph said that although profits at the Oak Room may still be minimal, he thinks the University has a long-term commitment to the restaurant. "I don't think Duke's ever going to shut it down."

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