Once Considered an ‘Island of Misfit Toys,’ The Rat Gets Summer Facelift

On Thursday nights, you could get into the Rat, formerly Boston College’s on-campus bar, for 50 cents. That was in 1980, when the Undergraduate Government of BC made a move to phase out the Oldies music in favor of that brand-new disco thing. It’s also been a concert venue: in 2000, that was where BC hosted Vanilla Ice. So the Rat, populated today by exam crammers and mac’n’cheese aficionados, has a weird history. And that history was beginning to show, so over the summer, it got a makeover. As Michael Kann, the associate director of food and beverage for Boston College Dining Services, explained, the Rat hadn’t been renovated since the ’90s.

“We have been bottled up several years now,” Kann said. “Everywhere else has been running over capacity, and we saw a decrease in the number of people here.”

The renovations began by stripping the space-impeding temporary walls and replacing them with real ones. Then, everything was rearranged to accommodate better traffic flow and more dispensers, like those for coffee and cereal. This new, more open floor plan creates space for easier maneuvering and greater efficiency on the part of the staff. The most noticeable change, however, has been the addition of the Shake it Up station. Similar in style to the ever-popular Green It station in Eagle’s Nest, Shake it Up provides custom tossed salads with a variety of ingredients. These new improvements have created as much as a 10 percent increase in traffic this semester alone, Kann said.

Before these renovations took place, the Rat was treated by many as “an island of misfit toys,” according to Kann. It was a secondary concern to the more recent renovations of Corcoran Commons, Carney Dining Hall, and The Bean Counter in Fulton (which occurred 12, eight, and three years ago, respectively). As Kann explained, a crucial component of these renovations was thinking about the logistics of BC dining halls as a whole. In addition to having a high density of students around lunch, the Rat serves as Boston College’s second-largest catering location. It is the only place, excluding Conte Forum, that can host upwards of 300 people for a mass catered event.

“You have to think about the logistics of each location” Kann said. “We did our design work to accommodate the catering as well.”

The Rat serves students from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., serves as an extensive catering venue, and is also the distribution center for all Grab ’n‘ Go pre-wrapped food. Grab ’n‘ Go food is made in small batches in the back kitchen and then distributed to every dining location on campus. Every 36 hours, the entire process is repeated in order to keep food fresh.

“We are able to take the same labor to make Grab ’n‘ Go very consistent and very fast,” Kann said, noting that the renovations expedite the process of making the refrigerated meals. “It really is a huge win for us.”

The New Rat

But no good thing comes without some difficulty. In fact, the new renovations have made the Rat so popular in recent weeks that the staff is already experiencing new challenges in dealing with the increased demand. For example, the Shake it Up station has run out of containers to serve in—it was impossible to ascertain how popular the salad bar would be. The Rat also serves the morning coffee crowd, and has retained its hot bar in order serve lunch dishes like Thursday Mac and Cheese. The combination of these various products can create some disorder during times of high demand. These logistical challenges are a good problem to have, Kann said, but it is still important to address them and to find the best way to mitigate them.

“I’m always running time studies here to make things more efficient while giving the students what they want,” he said. “We’re always talking to the employees as well, even something really simple could make a big difference.”

The renovations were so well received by administrative staff, in fact, that plans to renovate the dining area of the Rat are already in motion. Although there have been some transitional hiccups, everything is going well.

“When my manager was talking to me about why we ran out of containers [for the Shake it Up station], he asked me ‘What have we done wrong?’, and I said ‘Nothing, we’ve actually done everything too well. We’ve done everything right,’” Kann said.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

Maddie Phelps

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