A Snapple and one container of yogurt: one late meal. Anything more: two late meals and probably a couple of points. But a dining experience at the Frist Campus Center: incomparable — at least according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which recently gave Frist the award for "Best Food Court."

"We are ecstatic," said Frist General Manager Lisa M. Linn de Barona. "This is the first time Frist has won, and it was a major surprise."

Though Frist has previously won awards for the cafe and various special events, this year marks the first that the NAICU considered the dining gallery. The selection committee lost the dining gallery's submission last year.

The NAICU based its selection on creativity, food diversity and effective marketing, among other criteria.

The University competed against schools highly regarded in the area of dining services, including the California Institute of Technology, which earned second place and the University of Georgia, which placed third.

Despite the victory for Frist, the staff claims they are intent on enhancing the services in the campus center. Since its opening in 2000, Frist has continuously attempted to provide a welcoming alternative to the dining halls and eating clubs, through both its distinctive staff hiring procedure — prospective employees must engage in a "casting call," a series of role-play sessions — and its innovative variety of food options, said Linn de Barona.

Linn de Barona added that the award not only lifts the morale of the staff but also encourages the administration to implement changes such as adding items to the deli and the cafe and responding more to what customers are looking for through several feedback options.

Besides the promised improvements and huge banners, buttons and other memorabilia decorating Frist, trade magazines have featured the dining gallery and other schools — like the University of Kentucky, the University of San Francisco and all the Ivy Leagues — have visited the campus center to view how the gallery operates.

"It makes you feel good about sharing with other schools how you became successful and to see them copy that is flattering," said Stu Orefice, director of dining services.

However, students on campus have differing opinions about whether the dining gallery serves as a model of success.

"I've eaten at other schools that have name brands, but the home-cooked meals here [provide the appeal]," said Safura Fadavi '04, an independent, who added she thinks Frist deserves the award.

Jessica Kirkland '03, who is an eating club member, said she agrees that Frist deserves the award even though she eats at Frist less frequently.

"The colleges I have seen have less variety, and I think Frist has created variety without reverting to getting a Domino's or fast food because that would turn people off. And I feel we have good food with enough variety for everyone to eat," Kirkland said.

However, as Jamila Celestine '03 noted, the options at Frist are still limited.

"You always know what you are going to get," said Celestine. "Socially, you have to make more of an effort here . . . eating clubs always have the social advantage, as new people are always coming in, and you form good friendships."

But Celestine also noted one of Frist's important advantages. "Frist is cheaper than the eating clubs and the food is good," she said.

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