Students who complain about the quality of Marketplace food now have quantitative data to back up their gripes, as the eatery rated dead last in Dining Services' most recent Performance Assessment for Culinary Excellence rankings. Meanwhile, the world's common denominator of food, McDonald's, earned a resounding first place over all other University dining establishments.
McDonald's 87.44 percent score topped the rankings through March 15, followed by the Faculty Commons at 83.16 percent, Chick-fil-A at 79.69 percent and Blue Express at 79.50 percent. Much-maligned food service provider ARAMARK Corp. was responsible for two of the three lowest-scoring eateries, as the Great Hall came in at 70.45 percent and the Marketplace bottomed out with 69.18 percent. Also receiving low marks was Alpine Bagel and Brews Co., with a 70.06 percent rating.
All 20 of Duke's dining establishments--not counting the new law school restaurant, which was not rated--scored either Good or Very Good in the PACE rankings, which were devised by Director of Dining Services Jim Wulforst earlier this year to hold food vendors to a tough and quantitative standard of accountability.
A restaurant's rating is based on an operational performance standards review, conducted by Dining Services, and consumer reviews by "mystery shoppers" and members of the Duke Undergraduate Student Dining Advisory Committee. Later this year, a People's Choice Award will be added to the complex rating calculation.
The Marketplace's comparatively low rating comes a month after East Campus Council, DUSDAC and Duke Student Government expressed a lack of confidence in ARAMARK and the Marketplace in particular. Last Thursday, ARAMARK resident district manager David Randolph announced the company was relocating him to another account, and Wulforst said ARAMARK and Duke would work together to find a new individual to head up ARAMARK's efforts at the University. He said, however, that ARAMARK would remain at the University next year. Randolph could not be reached for comment.
Wulforst said he hoped the Marketplace's disappointing result would be a wake-up call. "For a showplace like the Marketplace it's a concern," he said. "[But] those at the bottom of the list are saying to us every month, 'We're not going to stay at the bottom of the list.'"
The Marketplace and Alpine Bagels suffered two of the most precipitous drops in the rankings since last November's preliminary scores, which lacked the operational performance standards review that Wulforst conducted just before winter break. Wulforst said Alpine Bagels had some mitigating factors that contributed to its drop, including a challenging transition for new manager Monte Tatum and new operations manager Laura Simmons.
Tatum said it would be necessary for Alpine Bagels to make an adjustment to achieve his eventual goal of topping the PACE rankings. When asked why Alpine Bagels has not met its goals so far this semester Tatum said, "Maybe because people don't like Alpine."
Other restaurants with steep drops since November were Grace's Cafe, The Loop and Quenchers juice bar. Grace's and The Loop had tied for second, with Quenchers not far behind, but they all slipped to the middle of the pack for March. Jack Chao, who owns both Grace's and Quenchers, said it was important to note that the ratings for his establishments had not dropped, although the rankings had.
Chao said Grace's and Quenchers had not changed over the course of the year, though perhaps his competition had stepped up the pace.
"We always have the best customer service, the best quality we can, the cleanest everything--that's our regular practice," he said. "When other vendors on campus saw the [November dining rankings] article... they said, 'Wait a minute we've got to kick ourself into next gear.'"
With all vendors receiving good ratings, Wulforst said he was not worried about those who were not keeping the PACE. "I keep wanting to say the guys at the bottom of the list aren't doing a good job. The reality is, those guys are doing a good job," he said.
As Wulforst is fond of saying, however, "Good is the enemy of excellence"--a quote he assiduously credits to women's basketball head coach Gail Goestenkors. With that in mind, he said he gives particular credit to those eateries that show improvement in customer feedback forms or the semiannual comprehensive evaluations.
Rick's Diner, which occupied last place in the November rankings, is an example of a restaurant that has made marked improvements over this year. Despite challenges with cleanliness and food that Wulforst admitted was not extraordinary, the restaurant improved somewhat in the most recent rankings.
"We have a touch of a disadvantage at the restaurant because it's a 24-hour operation and we don't have time to shut down and get everything spotless, but at the same time we're vastly and steadily improving," Lynch said. "I think we constantly have to improve on keeping our dining room in a presentable state. Because we do not have table service... a lot of times, especially on the weekend, you have students lining up out of the door, waiting to be served, and sometimes students will leave a wrapper on the table and then the next group will sit right down."
Other vendors ascending the rankings were the ARAMARK-managed Chick-fil-A, Trinity Cafe, and most dramatically, McDonald's.
Wulforst said the Duke McDonald's was among the best he had ever seen. He said much of their success in setting the PACE had to do with the stringent international standards of McDonald's for cleanliness, which probably gave it a particular boost relative to last November because attributes such as cleanliness are most easily picked up by Wulforst's operational performance standards review. McDonald's store manager Rafael Perez also pointed to such improvements over the course of the year as a better-organized warehouse and Spanish hand-washing instructions posted in a nearby University bathroom.
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