- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000


Tara Eliason was hungry but didn't want to leave her dorm. It was noon on the day before spring break at Manhattanville College and "everything's due today," the junior economics major said. "If I go to the cafeteria, I won't get it all done."

Heather Singleton, on the other hand, had plenty of time to walk to the cafeteria; she just didn't feel like going. The sophomore's classes were finished, and she was still in her pajamas at lunchtime, watching Jenny Jones on TV.

"I thought it'd be cool to have a meal delivered," she said.

Consider it done. Manhattanville, a private college just north of New York City that costs $26,000 a year, has room service just like a hotel.

The difference is that the student, unlike a hotel guest, can't call every day. But up to three times a semester, dorm residents can call the day ahead, order an entree, two side dishes and a beverage and request a delivery time.

It works for breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), lunch (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and dinner (4 p.m. to 6 p.m.). There's no added cost.

Such hotel-like service is still rare on the nation's campuses, but experts say it's likely to spread as colleges compete for students. "Before long, we'll be seeing a dorm concierge," said Ray Mulligan, regional vice president for Flik International Corp., which provides Manhattanville's food service.

Three weeks ago, Assistant Catering Director Alma Mojica knocked on the door of Miss Eliason's dorm room, with its "Rugrats" bedspread and "Dawson's Creek" poster.

Miss Mojica carried an insulated red bag over her shoulder. Inside was a cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato, waffle fries and a bottle of Slice just what Miss Eliason ordered. The burger was hot, the soda cold. There was a container of ketchup, a fork, a spoon, a straw and napkins.

"This is great," said the 20-year-old from New York City, eating at her desk, maintaining her 3.8 grade point average.

Meanwhile, a turkey-and-bacon club sandwich, a green salad and fries, plus a Pepsi, had been delivered to Miss Singleton's room, with its Three Stooges-Clint Eastwood motif. The 19-year-old from Honolulu, who also has a 3.8 average, was delighted.

"It's nice once in a while to be able to eat in bed," she said. "I'm a long way from home. It's not like I can pop in on Mom and get pampered."

Miss Mojica said she has averaged five or six deliveries a day "maybe 15 when it rains" since the program began two months ago.

"The first was a guy with an injured foot," she remembered. "Sometimes they're studying hard, sometimes not. But we don't ask them why they want it delivered."

College President Richard Berman said room service fits in with his "student-driven" policies, which have helped double the enrollment to 1,300 since he took over five years ago.

"We keep the library open until 4 a.m. We keep the financial aid office open on Saturdays," he said. "If students are happier, our retention is better, and if our retention is better, our recruitment will be better.

"Room service sounds a little absurd, probably, but there are times when kids just are studying or don't feel well. If they were in any other setting, somebody would bring them a meal or they would order Chinese in."

Flik is part of the global Compass Group, which also includes Chartwell's, another company that caters to schools.

Mr. Mulligan said only a few other schools, such as the University of Miami and Southwest Texas State University, have room service like Manhattanville's, where a full meal doesn't cost extra. But many have pizza or sandwich delivery for cash.

"Competition on college campuses has brought us to a place where student services is what sells," he said. "If you've been to a college cafeteria lately, you know that it's almost a restaurant-type setting."

Indeed, Manhattanville's cafeteria offered a bright view of the campus, sparkling tables and a bewildering variety of food in addition to the standard burgers and pizza eggplant parmigiana, broiled fish, rice pilaf, pasta with clam or marinara sauce, baked sweet potatoes, a separate area with Chinese food, a little ice cream parlor, a coffee bar.

Miss Singleton said she'd be back in the cafeteria many times before using her two remaining room-service calls.

"I'm saving them for finals," she said.

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