Opening a new restaurant or eatery is quite an involved affair. The funds poured into a project make the stakes relatively high in the beginning, as a business scrambles to recoup operating costs. As such, many restaurants opt for a so-called “soft opening,” a precursor to the official welcome of customers. These openings usually have a selective audience and a limited menu, serving the purpose of acquainting new staff with equipment and the environment. This concept is one that has been likened to dress rehearsals in theater productions.
It is important to note that soft openings are not a blanket tactic used for all restaurants, least of all fast-food chains. The concept is primarily utilized by unique dining operations, still trying to develop their brand and approach to cuisine. It would therefore be rather bizarre to see a McDonalds hold such an opening given that customers are already well-acquainted with their product and dining experience. Then, of course, there is Compass Group.
In a characteristically trivial move, Compass decided to hold a soft opening for the new Dunkin’ Donuts on campus. I had the misfortune of discovering this event after approaching the doors on March 15. Before I could fully open the door, I was received swiftly by Jose Rodriguez, director of operations. There was no “hello” or “excuse me,” but rather a terse “invitation only.” I was taken aback by his rather curt approach.
I decided to ask Rodriguez the purpose of this “invitation” system, and how they had been distributed. He informed me that the purpose of the soft opening was to test equipment and familiarize staff with the venue. It was “just to turn the machines on,” as he put it. He went on to say that the 200 invitations had been distributed by Hofstra Student Government Association (SGA).
Abby Normandin, vice president of SGA, reiterated Rodriguez’s stance, adding that it was in effort to “[increase] buzz and excitement.” The 200 vouchers were distributed at random by dining services on March 14, with some 10 additional invitations being given to student government senators.
On the surface there is nothing outwardly wrong with this approach. But as in most things intentions are not always represented by action. When approached by Rodriguez, I was made to feel unwelcome. Being unable to even enter the building to take in the new venue was, in my mind, a little extreme. The result of this attitude was that the soft opening came off as elitist. This was aided by the fact that only certain student groups were permitted to enter the premises.
Students with a fondness for President Stuart Rabinowitz with recall his somewhat infamous slogan, “You are welcome here.” Yet this was not the feeling I received when attempting to enter this new dining establishment. On my way to a final, like so many other students, I was excited at the notion of options beyond the Breslin Café located near my class, which specializes in pedaling unhealthy energy drinks. Instead I was met with a blunt interaction, one that felt unnecessary.
Those critical of students expressing their misgivings about on-campus dining will largely dismiss this editorial. “Just another kid complaining about Compass,” they will say. To be sure this is, in the grand scheme of things, a rather minor issue. But the broader concern at hand remains: customer service needs to be improved. As a representative for a larger entity, Rodriguez and others must be cognizant of interactions with individuals whom, in the future, will be paying them money. In place of the fanfare and ‘buzz’ generation, I’ll settle for a venue that merely gives me a greeting.
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