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Oak Room changes name, menu

With a new menu, a new mission and a new name, The Oak Room Grille opened Wednesday to little fanfare and mixed reviews.

The West Union Building's second-floor eatery suffered through a tumultuous period last year, including an unsuccessful up-scaling and several management changes. Over the summer, with student input at the forefront of consideration, the menu was changed to offer more grilled foods--hence the different name--larger portions and somewhat cheaper prices.

"We were struggling with what the identity of the Oak Room is," said David Randolph, ARAMARK Corp. district manager. ARAMARK took over Oak Room operations last year along with other previously Duke-controlled eateries like The Great Hall.

"Students say they want Outback, Grady's and Macaroni Grill, and that's what we're trying to give them," Randolph added.

Other changes to the menu include more appetizers, bottomless salads and an entree special every nightâ??all items recommended in a spring survey conducted by the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee.

DUSDAC Co-Chair Barry Locker estimated they changed about 35 percent of the lunch menu, about 65 percent of the dinner menu and about 50 percent of the appetizer offerings. He noted, however, that DUSDAC will continue to monitor the restaurant's implementation of the new menu.

"Ultimately, I think that they have listened to us, the students," said Locker, a senior. "But it's really on their shoulders now to deliver the goods."

Some Oak Room Grille diners said they did not notice much difference, but other said they appreciated the larger and less up-scale menu.

"I am very impressed with the changes here.... I think the menu is much more up-to-date," said se nior Danielle Friedman. "I would definitely like to come back and eat here, and I'm glad they decided to keep it around."

First-year Divinity School student George Ragsdale, Trinity '02, said he enjoyed his meal but saw further potential in the restaurant's offerings.

"It still needs diversity," Ragsdale said. "I still remember the Oak Room the way it used to be."

Some said despite the student-driven changes, The Oak Room Grille is no longer student-friendly.

"I haven't been here since sophomore year, when it was still 'The Oak Room,' and not 'The Oak Room Grille,' and there were still students here," said senior Kristen Blackman, who ate lunch there Wednesday. "There are no students here now; it's all adults."

Randolph said the breakdown between students and the faculty and staff clientele during lunch and dinner is the same as in previous years.

"Typically, we have about three-quarters faculty and staff for lunch, and almost 90 percent students for dinner," he added.

Randolph also noted that The Oak Room Grille has attempted to improve service and efficiency, and notwithstanding some first-day glitches in the restaurant's computer system, customers expressed satisfaction with the service.

He and Locker said customers can still only tip restaurant staff in cash, not using a DukeCard or credit card. Although they said they are working to resolve the problem, which staff members have complained leaves them under-tipped, they added that University policy currently prevents them from doing so.

John Miller contributed to this story.