Young chicken breast, locally sourced. Crispy, brown breaded exterior, with a delicate spice blend. Soft, juicy white meat inside. Served on a bed of lightly salted French-fried Yukon Golds. Add a dash of Cattleman’s honey barbeque sauce to complement the flavor of the dish.
Once upon a time, this is what food in The Commons looked like: delicious chicken tendies of real restaurant quality with a healthy pile of fries. Students who were around in the 13-14 school year remember it fondly. In our day, it was a pleasant experience to visit the Mesquite BBQ Grille on the second floor. We looked forward to it. We gathered there to partake in delicious food and good conversation.
But now, it’s kind of a shithole.
The old chicken tendies are a glimmer of the past, of a time before Chartwells remembered that they could alter their menus without any consequences. Because they have no competition, they’re free to take away everything that we love. We’ll keep going back to the Grille, even as the chicken gets worse, the fry portions become smaller and smaller, and the wait times grow enormously. We’ll keep going back, because they haven’t left us a choice.
We spoke with Tom DeLuca, resident district manager of Chartwells for UMBC Dining, about our grievances. We commend DeLuca for the grace and respect with which he answered our (fairly aggressive) questions.
Said DeLuca, “we certainly need to maintain or increase the value of our services when we do make changes, and that is our goal.” It’s the correct goal, and we do appreciate the thought. We just don’t think it’s happened. We get a drink with the tendie meal deal now, but the chicken is smaller, and now we get a tiny envelope that skimps on the French fries instead of the bigger pile we’re used to.
Let’s consider portion sizes and value for money. DeLuca points out that for many on-campus locations, Chartwells has no control over this. “For the national brands [Starbucks & Chick-Fil-A] we are the franchisee and we are held to their standards and portion sizes,” said DeLuca. Fair enough.
But for the internal brands, such as Mesquite BBQ, Chartwells is directly responsible for menus and portion sizes. “We stay competitive with local businesses and our pricing is in line with the local market prices,” said DeLuca. Do you, though? Do you really?
Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: we could go to McDonald’s or Wendy’s and get more food, that tastes better, for a cheaper price. It’s not the fairest comparison, so let’s try a better one.
How about Popeyes? It’s a nicer restaurant in terms of fast food, comparable to the atmosphere of Mesquite BBQ, if even a little nicer. At the Popeyes on Route 40, we could get a chicken tender meal, which includes 5 tenders, a side dish of our choice and a biscuit. And for all this food, we’d pay $7.79. For comparison, the five-piece tender meal at Mesquite costs $6.99. So, yes, technically, Mesquite is cheaper. But when we account for quality and quantity of food, Popeyes seems like the better deal.
So what’s the solution? Basically, said DeLuca, if you want good value for your money, stop eating in The Commons. “The greatest value that students can realize with their meal plans is to take advantage of True Grit’s.” We already know this, but it’s not realistic to run all the way to True Grit’s every meal period, especially not for commuters trying to cram in food between classes.
The bottom line is this: we students feel that we Chartwells has consistently saddled us with subpar quality and subpar service, for a premium price. And we’re tired of it.
And for the last time: bring back our tendies.