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Duke eatery evaluations released

Director of Dining Services Jim Wulforst is toughening up with stringent new quantitative evaluations of on-campus eateries, to be concluded next week. The results of these and subsequent spring surveys will be used to determine which restaurants will remain on campus and which will be sent packing come June.

"I want people to know that they'd better be on the same mission that I'm on," Wulforst said. "I did not take this job because I wanted to have a mediocre food program at Duke."

His evaluation calls for input from three sources: a "mystery shopper" who is randomly asked to comment on food and service at a particular restaurant, Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee members and Wulforst himself, who is currently touring eateries to evaluate them on a 1,000-point scale.

With over 500 DUSDAC surveys and numerous "mystery shopper" comments already tabulated, Wulforst released a preliminary ranking last month. Faculty Commons topped the list, followed by Grace's Cafe, The Loop and Pauly Dogs. Bottoming out were the Great Hall, the Marketplace, The Perk, Trinity Cafe and, dead last, Rick's Diner. Three of the last five are managed by ARAMARK, Inc. (see story, page one).

Wulforst said the rankings are intended to ensure the most accurate evaluation of the eateries' performance. "Whether you are the $8 million operator called ARAMARK or a mom-and-pop operation out of Chapel Hill, you're being sized up on a level playing field," he said.

"I don't want to get anymore sob stories to the Chronicle editor about how 'I was pushed off campus and I don't know why.'"

Restaurant managers expressed largely favorable impressions of the new system, frequently noting that top-quality operations have nothing to lose from a closer examination of their services.

"It's a positive program to have," said Fares Hanna, manager of the eighth-ranked Blue Express. "It keeps everybody on their toes. It's another set of eyes, I would say, for someone who cares what they have out there."

Jack Chao, whose Grace's Cafe ranked second overall, said the rankings would be beneficial in providing incentives to other eateries' unfriendly employees.

"I know I'm already in line," he said. "When Jim Wulforst came out with this program, I knew he was targeting other people, not just me. Hopefully they'll follow my standard."

Wulforst acknowledged that some managers have complained that the ranking system, as currently constituted, unfairly benefits smaller operations like Pauly Dogs--which tied for third--because they are easier to manage. However, other small locations like The Perk and Trinity Cafe were near the bottom of the list, and the high-volume Loop tied for third.

Others expressed a desire that DUSDAC evaluators be properly trained, since their opinions carry significant weight under the system. "It's funny: You could have two students evaluate you within five minutes, and one of them will give you a very positive [rating] and one will give you a negative one," Hanna said.

A number of managers reported that although they felt increasingly scrutinized, the pressure to perform as an eatery was present even before Wulforst's new initiative.

"Me, I'm always on my toes," said Pauly Dogs owner Paul Konstanzer. "I haven't changed from last year to right now. Because they're running a contest, I'm not being nicer to you."


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