It’s 12:32 p.m. on Tuesday, and Alex MacArthur is late.
He half-jogs through the entrance of the Maize, darts around the sandwich line, grabs a scotcharoo bar, whips out his Cobber ID, swipes it at the counter, and exits.
As I stepped into line behind him, I asked if that was all he’s having for lunch?
“Yep. I don’t like to take long on a decision-making process,” he said. His marketing group meeting was starting soon.
Caught in the middle of the lunch rush that happens in the Maize every Tuesday and Thursday, many other students join MacArthur in his quick quest for food between classes. According to Jason Giffey, dining services retail operation manager, the noon hour rush occurs because the break between 12:10 p.m. and 12:50 p.m. is the only scheduled lunch break during the academic day.
It’s been this way for a long time. At least, since Giffey began as the Maize manager eight years ago.
“Even in the Normandy, it was busy that way,” he said. The Normandy, previously located in the upper level of the bookstore, was the Maize equivalent before the new Knutson Campus Center was built in 2008.
New equipment and an expanded menu now allow the Maize staff to serve Concordia students more efficiently. Quick service is one of the reasons some prefer to eat lunch in the Maize and not in Anderson Commons during the rush.
At 12:11 p.m. Graham Sibley, a junior, asks for spinach and mustard on his sub sandwich. Six students and a faculty member wait behind him in line.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. The amount of people trying to eat, not the mustard, he means. There are so many people trying to get through D.S. at lunch that he rarely eats in Anderson. “I’m willing to wait in the Maize,” he said. “It’s not as long.”
Dining or Cobber?
As the traffic in the Maize increases during the rush, the student workers swipe IDs faster, cut sandwiches in half faster, and deliver food to seated customers faster. At the tills, the phrase “Dining or Cobber?” is repeated over and over, faster. The workers use this lingo (shortened forms of “dining dollars” and “Cobber cash”) to save their vocal chords. Understandable, considering the number of transactions that have been made this Tuesday.
Between noon and 12:30 p.m., 178 purchases were rung up at the counter. For a half hour, each of the three tills covered approximately two transactions every minute. That’s thirty seconds per customer during the busiest time the Maize handles all week.
According to Giffey, it is due to the positive attitude of the student workers that this rate can be maintained.
“It’s non-stop go, go go. But I love it. It’s the students,” he said.
Sales trends fluctuate, especially according to the depletion of dining dollar funds, according to Giffey. The busiest weeks are typically the second and third of each semester, but he estimates that total sales drop 10 percent near the end of the semester when students have extinguished their dining dollars. Giffey says the enthusiasm of his staff, however, stays consistent.
By 12:37 p.m., the line for sandwiches has shortened to two students and the cluster of 10 hungry individuals who stood near the main grill has gone extinct. Today’s special – BBQ pork sandwich, homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, and green beans for $4.59 – was a decent seller, but according to Giffey, the specialty breads have made the sub sandwich line the more popular choice during the rush.
Today’s most popular sandwich? Turkey on rosemary multigrain.
“It’s always turkey,” freshman sandwich artist Lindsey Kuhn said of the most common order. And you can consider her an expert on the matter.
“I’ve been working here all year but I’ve been making subs for way too long.” A job at Subway during high school helped Kuhn feel comfortable in her college position as a Maize worker.
Creative new menu ideas often come from students. For example, senior Amanda Hildebrandt, who started in the Maize as a freshman, experiments with new pizza recipes. When she arrives at a successful concoction, the Maize will often produce her pizzas for purchase. Her most popular creations include the “Italian Pride,” (garlic chicken, basil, tomatoes, and buttered squash) and the “Cecilia,” (pepperoni, ham, salami, and seasoned mozzarella).
“Everything seems to be inspiring a pizza now a days,” Hildebrandt said. She takes suggestions from her co-workers and customers about what ingredients they would like as toppings, and combines things that taste good. According to her own taste, Hildebrandt’s best pizza delicacy so far is the Buffalo Chicken Ranch. She knows several people – herself included – who can’t stand buffalo sauce on its own. But when it’s on the pizza, Hildebrandt said, they can’t get enough.
“I think that makes it the best not just because it is considered our best seller,” Hildebrandt said, “But I was able to take an ingredient that I didn’t even like at first and make quite a rockin’ pizza.”
So Much Good Food, So Little Time
What can Concordia students do, then, to both ensure they enjoy their lunch and make it to class on time on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Some simple suggestions from those who know the rush best might prove useful.
1. Pre-packaged, please. If there is a long line at the grill and she’s in a hurry, junior Hannah White says she turns to the shelves for a pre-packaged wrap or salad. Some people think these items are less fresh than a sandwich made on the spot, but rest assured, Concordia: inside that package is quality food.
Claire Fear, employee of the Maize for the last two years, arrives in the kitchen daily at 4 a.m. to make the pre-packaged fares and loves to watch as her items are purchased. Don’t let her culinary efforts remain on the shelves.
2. Hungry profs. It is hardly a secret that some professors are known to let their 10:30 a.m. class out just a touch early so they can get to lunch. Maybe those profs wanted to eat lunch, too. Including the names of these generous professors here, however, was unadvisable. With the secret spilled, suddenly everyone might hop on the bandwagon. No more early advantage on the lunch rush.
The best advice? Find the hungry professors for yourself and take their class. Or take your current one to lunch. A subtle hint that you’d like to be let out at precisely 12:07 p.m.
3. Quack, quack seat back. Seating is, in Giffey’s opinion, the main inconvenience during the lunch rush. Though the Maize service is speedy, the lack of seating causes some crowding during the busiest times.
Danielle Knoll, a junior, eats in the Maize nearly every Tuesday and Thursday. She’s among the lucky – her education methods class is over at 11:45 a.m. and so she heads directly to the Maize from Old Main. Often, her friends ask her to save a spot for them at one of the select few tables. She always does. Find yourself a friend like Danielle and have your spot saved before you get to the Maize.
4. Ready, set, ID. One of the easiest ways to cut your transaction time down is to have your ID out and ready before you make it to the counter. Don’t be that student who scrambles through her backpack searching for that piece of light blue plastic with your mug shot on it, irritating your fellow Cobbers waiting in line behind you. This saves you and the Maize time, and helps everyone stay peaceful during the rush. And wins you brownie points in the eyes of the card swipers. If you get really ambitious, think about which method of payment you’ll use and save your swiper his breath.
5. Learn from the Peace Tea. One of the items to consistently vanish from the shelf first is raspberry-flavored Peace Tea. For only 99 cents, this 23 oz. drink is a favorite refreshment during the rush. If you arrive too late at the Maize, hoping to purchase a Peace Tea, do not dismay if there are none on the shelf. Also, do not settle for a less enjoyable beverage, like the lemon Peace Tea. All you have to do is ask any Maize employee if there is more of your favorite item. Most often, according to Giffey, it is in full stock in the back. It’s only a matter of bringing more out. At the simple request of a polite student, few in the Maize will refuse you your Peace Tea.
By 12:47 p.m., the Maize is deserted except for the patient, polite employees who dedicated the last 50 minutes of their lives to the service of the lunch rush.
I took this quiet opportunity to order my own lunch. Turkey, on Rosemary, with spinach, cucumbers, Colby jack, and chipotle sauce. Cut in half, please.
Kuhn made my sandwich. Giffey swiped my ID – dining dollars, thanks – and I learned later that, as I sat down to take my first bite, Alex MacArthur walked into his meeting right on time.
Steph Barnhart, 2013, is a multimedia journalism and public relations major at Concordia College. She has been a contributing writer, staff writer, and the news editor for The Concordian. Steph is an optimistic vegetarian who loves sustainability blogs, green tea, and talking. Follow her on Twitter at @stephbarnhart.