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Survey Foiled by Fast Food Fraud

By Nick Semenkovich

Roughly 2,000 students responded to a recent survey regarding the future of the Lobdell Food Court, showing strong support for Thai, Italian, and Chinese cuisine. However, according to Director of Campus Dining Richard Berlin, “Some hacker voted for Taco Bell about a thousand times.”

The survey, sponsored by Campus Dining with input by the UA and DormCon, will help decide the fate of one remaining space in Lobdell.

“This was the first survey we’ve run in two years,” Berlin said. “The last one we ran brought in Anna’s Taqueria.”

Dining first had the idea of surveys when MIT gained more control over individual restaurant options. The old food court was run by Aramark, then by Sodexho, both of which left MIT little control over food choices. The new, operator-based format, allows Dining to choose individual restaurants.

“These surveys give us a good idea of what people are looking for, and help us bring in the most popular brands,” Berlin said. “Just roughly, I’d say we’ve seen a 40 percent increase in Lobdell business with the operator-based format.”

Ruth Miller ’07, the UA Vice President, helped craft the survey.

“As you can probably tell from the lines during lunch, the Japanese place is doing better than the other two places combined.” Miller said. “Thai was chosen as an option to hopefully capture some of that demand, and a noodle place is preferred to complement the three rice-based options currently in Lobdell.”

Dining will now meet with the Campus Dining Advisory Board in a search for vendors to fill the space where a Burger King was once located. Both an Italian and an Asian restaurant have already shown interest in the space.

“It’s possible the restaurant could be installed as soon as next spring,” said Berlin.

Survey Hacked, Results Still Usable

Along with ethnic cuisine choices, the survey allowed students to vote for national food chains. At the close of the survey, over half of the votes for national food chains were for Taco Bell, which likely came from a single student.

Jagruti S. Patel ’97, senior consultant for Information Services and Technology, described in an e-mail to Dining that “It is possible for a student to set up a program to change his/her IP address to vote multiple times for Taco Bell,” and in the last survey, “someone voted multiple times for Chik-Fil-A.”

Dining, however, still considers the results usable and will not re-run the survey, since it appears that the hacker only voted for Taco Bell. According to Berlin, although there are 3,371 recorded responses, the actual number is likely between 1,900 and 2,000.

Ethnic Options Chosen

Taco Bell aside, Quiznos and Wendy’s were popular choices but are unlikely to be on campus any time soon.

“We went in with the assumption that a Subway is coming, so another sub store isn’t a good option,” said Berlin. “Plus, the Quiznos in Tech Square currently accepts TechCASH.”

Allison M. Jacobs ’08, the DormCon Dining Chair, echoed the concerns of brand competition. “There were a lot of votes for Quiznos and Taco Bell, which we would not put in because of Subway and Anna’s,” said Jacobs. Sbarros is also an unlikely choice given Cambridge Grill. “We also got an overwhelming response for Bertucci’s, but they don’t want the spot.”

Jamba Juice ‘Top Brand’

With Quiznos and Wendy’s not considered viable options, the top brand chosen in the survey was Jamba Juice.

Jamba Juice was “a surprise” according to Berlin. The smoothie chain, which was added to the survey at the request of DormCon and the UA, received over 800 votes.

Dining, however, doesn’t consider Jamba Juice an option for Lobdell. “The Burger King space isn’t suited for Jamba Juice,” said Berlin. “Based on equipment, it’s a more capable space given its facilities and exhaust hoods.”

Ruth Miller described how a Jamba Juice could be installed on the first floor of the student center when the MIT Federal Credit Union branch opens in the Game Room.

“This isn’t [Berlin’s] decision … it would take more effort and coordination between Dining and [Phillip J. Walsh, Director of the Campus Activities Complex],” Miller said. “But the survey’s strong support is a solid step in the right direction.”

Subway Installation in Spring

The Subway that is supposed to be located in Lobdell was originally set to open in September, but was delayed due to legal requirements.

According to Berlin, those concerns have now been worked out, and the Subway should open in the spring.

According to Jacobs, Subway will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., but those hours could be changed. “If business is still strong at 11, we can try to work with them to do late night subs,” she said.