By OLIVIA BRIDGES
The Underground used to be a hub of student activity with lines stretching out the doors. However, over the past few years, business at the Underground has significantly declined. According to Rose Benedict, UMW Dining Marketing Manager, the university has employed a several different marketing tactics to increase revenue at the Underground.
“Campus Dining has conducted a variety of promotional and advertising campaigns for the Underground, too many to enumerate here,” Benedict said in an email.
The menu change to Mediterranean food is one of the latest marketing tactics. Campus Dining selected the current menu based off of the customer satisfaction surveys about types of cuisine students would like to have on campus.
According to Benedict, Campus Dining will continue to review the operations of the Underground and monitor student feedback in response to the menu change.
Junior international affairs major Tess Darroch likes the new menu.
“I like that they have more vegetables than other places on campus,” she said. “I like that it has healthier options and a variety of grains besides rice. The meat isn’t dry.”
“Well, this is the first time I’ve tried it, I really enjoy it,” said freshman and biology major Faith St. Clair, who likes the change in menu.
Although St. Clair says she misses the sandwiches from the previous menu, she is for the most part satisfied with the current menu.
St. Clair is not the only student who misses some items from the old menu.
“The red pepper gouda is my favorite thing to get here, if it’s there,” said senior Mary Pagan. “It used to sell out all the time.”
Pagan said the red pepper gouda used to be a campus-wide favorite and people would stand in line for it every Wednesday. Pagan says now it is not of the same quality and it feels like the Underground does not care about presentation.
“They used to serve it with cheesy, garlic-y, toasted pita bread. Now it’s served with a limp, sad piece of pita bread,” said Pagan.
Pagan believes that if the Underground wants to increase student sales, they should return to the classics.
“Mediterranean is already such a distinct food group that many people say they don’t even like,” said Pagan. “And then you go in the UC and we have our world options. So I don’t know why we need another option for that; we already have Mediterranean at the UC.”
Pagan wants a place on campus where she can access classic American food.
Sixth year senior and religious studies major Christopher Larimer said he does not think the menu is the only cause of the lack of student activity at the Underground.
According to Larimer, the shift in student activity began his junior year in 2016 when the Underground stopped using the entertainment organization Giant.
“Giant was an organization that brought concerts,” said Larimer. “It provided entertainment. Basically every Friday on this campus there was something. They did extravagant things for the campus.”
According to Larimer, who is also a Fredericksburg native, not only has the Underground turned into what he now calls a study space, the environment and level of activity at the university has changed. Larimer attributes the current atmosphere to the lack of university funds to give to the student run organization.
“A lot of my friends worked for the organization, and that’s why it bothers me so much to think about,” said Larimer “It was student run, it was done for the students, by the students.”
According to Assistant Director for Student Involvement, Alec Mallmann, Giant was a student club that was absorbed by Campus Programing Board in the 2013-2014 academic school year.
“CPB oversees Giant and Reel Deals and all of those things that used to separate are now just one thing. So they still have concerts down there that Giant used to do in the Underground or the Bingo that was run by, it is now all run by CPB,” said Mallmann.
In addition to the change in campus activity both Larimer and Pagan believe the previous marketing strategies to revive the Underground were not as the university promised, like the beer promotion at the Underground.
“When they said that they were going to start making the beer for the students of the campus, where is it?” asked Pagan.
The Underground does not start serving beer until after five and students must be over 21 years old in order to buy a beer.
The manager of the Underground was unable to be reached for comment.
The beer promo is one of many menu changes employed to bring more students to the Underground. According to Benedict’s email, in the spring of 2018, the Underground served pub-style food. The menu switched again in the fall of 2018 to a deli-style menu.
The current Mediterranean menu is subject to change if it does not help increase revenue for the Underground. However, even if the current menu does not increase student activity, the Underground will not face potential closure.
“If they stop serving food, we will still be open for other things and allow clubs to more freely be able to bring in food from outside,” said Mallmann.
According to Mallmann, when the University Center opened, the Underground didn’t serve food for an entire year. It was exclusively open for events such as Bingo, open mic nights, and concerts.
Now that the Underground serves food, when student organizations reserve the space they can only reserve the stage because students need to have access to tables; however, there are a few exceptions. For example, the Swing Club hosts their annual dance at the Underground and they are allowed to utilize the entire space.
“I know it’s basically been changing drastically from almost semester to semester since I’ve been here. So I think a lot of the problem is that consistency,” said Mallmann.