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Monday, April 22, 2024

‘It's just kind of odd eating in a tent’: UF students react to makeshift dining hall

The eatery will serve students until Broward Hall renovations finish in Fall 2024

When Em Petlev first heard she’d be eating her meals in a tent for the remainder of the Spring semester, she felt like a contestant on the Great British Baking Show.

Other students’ first impressions of the temporary dining hall included “eating in the trenches,” “an interesting experience” and “kind of cute” since its opening Jan. 6. The climate-controlled Norman Field structure will serve UF students while The Eatery at Broward Hall undergoes a full renovation.

The renovation, scheduled for completion Fall 2024, will add 350 seats and 7,800 square feet by expanding the building southward. The enlarged Broward will feature customizable meals and a “student choice” menu, according to the Florida Fresh Dining website.

In addition to the temporary Norman location, the university’s other two dining halls, Gator Corner and Campus Cravings Kitchen, will remain open throughout Broward’s closure.

Though she originally found the idea of eating in a tent “kind of odd,” Petlev, an 18-year-old UF English and history freshman, thinks the dining team did the best they could with the temporary location, she said. She was relieved to find the structure stabler than that of the Netflix bake-off show, with more securely fastened flaps, she said.

Norman offers three all-you-can-eat meal stations in addition to salad, cereal and dessert bars. Students can visit seven days per week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.

“They have food that’s edible”

Aaron Winer, a 22-year-old UF business senior, hasn’t branched far from the “Gator Fire Grill” station, where he’s eaten seven hot dogs in the past two days, he said.

As an off-campus student, Winer was excited to see the temporary dining hall built just down the road from his Seventh Avenue living space, he said. He bought the cheapest meal plan to try out the tent and enjoyed the experience — until one distressing encounter, he said.

“I was walking out like I do every time, and the lady asked me if I can walk out the other doors that apparently are the exit doors now,” he said. “She wanted me to walk, like, an extra 20 steps that way just to go out the exit doors. Meanwhile, they both function the same exact way.”

The designation of “exit doors” makes for an inefficient system, and almost — but doesn’t quite — cancel out his positive opinion of the dining hall based on its hot dog assortment, he said.

Winer also wishes the dining hall would tone down its music, which makes conversation with other eaters difficult, he said.

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“They're playing, like, rap, hip-hop, all that good stuff that we youngsters tend to like,” he said. “But really loud… they must be trying to counter the fact that it's a temporary dining hall.”

Winer gave the tent a score of eight-point-eight out of 10, with one of the highlights being it has “food that’s edible,” he said.

Sofia Dinka, an 18-year-old UF journalism freshman, lives at Broward Hall and eats most of her meals on campus using her unlimited swipes, she said. Her peers made fun of the Norman tent on Yik Yak when it first appeared, but the tent exceeded Dinka’s expectations when she gave it a try — as did its facilities.

“The bathrooms are insane,” she said. “It’s like a palace in there. They’ve got, like, a foyer.”

Across from its line of “charming” mobile bathroom trucks, orange banners signal the entrance to the tent itself. Even during the 6 p.m. dinner rush, no line stretches outside the tent as it often did outside Broward. Students have room to leave empty foldable chairs between themselves and fellow diners as they eat chocolate-chip cookies and chickpea salad off of disposable plates.

While Dinka describes the food as hit-or-miss — sometimes tasting better than the Broward fare she ate last semester, and sometimes tasting like “slop” — the bathrooms at Norman tent are decidedly better than Broward’s, she said.

Dinka’s friend Kali Katz, a 19-year-old UF aerospace engineering freshman, testified to Dinka’s love of the tent.

“We were at [Campus Cravings] just, like two hours ago and she was like, ‘Damn, I miss the tent,’” Katz said.

The two freshmen are “a little bit sad” not to have Broward Dining next to their dorm anymore, but the walk to Norman isn’t too far, and Dinka makes the trip at least once per day for lunch or dinner, she said.

“A little below average”

Norman’s spotty food quality also made an impression on Kameron Lubben, a 21-year-old UF economics junior and Broward resident assistant.

“It’s a little below average,” he said. “I think that’s because of the supplies that get shipped in.”

Lubben appreciates the location opens up the campus by drawing more people into the UF Education Library adjacent to Norman rather than the popular Library West and Marston, he said.

But the tent’s location on Norman Field might also be a hindrance, said Tyler Minnich, a 21-year-old UF psychology junior.

Minnich has friends from a previous apartment who used to enjoy playing soccer at Norman, and he doesn’t think they’ve had space to play after the introduction of the tent, he said.

UF RecSports previously rented out Norman Field for athletic events, but the reservation website now lists Norman as indefinitely closed. Other fields, including Flavet, are still available.

But the location doesn’t bother Minnich personally, whose favorite food at Broward is of the citrus variety.

“I always grab an orange,” he said.

The latest update from UF predicts Broward will be open Fall 2024. The university has not shared its plans for the temporary Norman location as of Jan. 21.

Contact Zoey Thomas at Follow her on X @zoeythomas39.

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Zoey Thomas

Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. She previously wrote for the metro desk. Other than reporter, Zoey's titles include espresso connoisseur, long-distance runner and Wes Anderson appreciator. 

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