Café Mac suggestion box a spark for menu changes

By Zac Farber

The suggestion box at the main entrance to Café Mac serves as a forum for students to plead the case of their stomachs, show gratitude for a good meal, and showcase their unbridled anger.

Café Mac General Manager Lori Hartzell and Director of Operations Eric Rasmussen act as the forum’s moderators, reading each comment card and selecting which ones to post with responses on the bulletin board adjacent to the suggestion box.

A main function of the suggestion box, Hartzell and Rasmussen said, is to collect suggestions on modifying the menu.

“We started to do more vegan desserts through comment cards,” Hartzell said.

Daily availability of cottage cheese and increases in wholegrain bagels and bread also stemmed from comment cards, Hartzell said.

Many requests can simply not be practically executed.

“Cranberry juice in machines is simply too costly,” Hartzell said. “An all-you-can-eat plan dictates the costs and options of the food.”

Hartzell said her favorite comments are those that praise specific cooks or servers by name.

“We go back and show the comment to the staff member,” Hartzell said. “Sometimes serving 4,000 people per day can be a thankless job and the staff can wonder if they are being appreciated.”

Rasmussen and Hartzell said they are mostly benevolent with their comment-responding power.

“We normally post a response to all comments,” Rasmussen said.

But their patience is finite and some exceptions apply to their policy of universal posting.

“We don’t post comments that contain vulgar language, attack us or our staff, or are just inappropriate,” Hartzell said.

Liz Larson ’10 recently wrote a comment to express her appreciation for the reinstitution of Cocoa Puffs after Fall Break. Larson said she was pleased that Café Mac administrators responded with “you’re welcome.”

“The reply was up on the [board] right away so I knew that they had read it,” Larson noted.

Some responses to legitimate comments are ambiguous in their meaning. One request for a particular food item was answered with the sentence, “Your request has been documented,” leaving doubt over Café Mac’s intention of following upon the request.

Interactions like this lead some Macalester students to doubt the legitimacy of the suggestion box as a conduit for changing the menu.

“The suggestion box is the epitome of everything that’s wrong with democracy. It gives us the illusion that we are forging ahead in our quest for the perfect dining experience,” Titus Levy ’10 said.