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Full-service restaurant doesn’t fit at the UW

A slice of greasy pizza. Deep-fried Tater Tots. Miso-glazed black cod with a side of garlic wilted mustard greens. Let’s play a game of which one doesn’t fit.

There’s something about a cash-strapped university having a fine-dining establishment on campus that is the equivalent to nails on a chalkboard: unnecessary and bothersome.

When I first heard Housing & Food Services (HFS) was in the process of developing a full-service restaurant to go in the newly constructed Elm Hall, I was floored. Why would the UW campus need an even more expensive dining option for students?

The restaurant will be called Cultivate, which is a name more appropriate for an affluent suburb or a chic metropolitan neighborhood than across the street from Eleven 01. With menu items planned to have a price tag up to $17, I know I won’t be setting up any reservation times there.

The concept of the restaurant, as Assistant Campus Executive Chef Tracey MacRae recently told The Daily, is to be local and sustainable with a focus on “moving away from the over-done, overly-handled food” and to provide “simple, fresh, and local” food.

“You’re going to get a vibe,” she said.

And you’ll be paying plenty for it.

With students already shelling out small fortunes for everything from textbooks to tuition to housing, the last option we need is fancy food with a mind-boggling cost attached to it. Sure, it may be a nice option to bring parents or visiting guests there, but I would much rather take them downtown and show them sights such as Pike Place Market or the Seattle Art Museum before an expensive meal. I don’t know about you, but looking out onto Campus Parkway while I sip my $4 drink isn’t what I’d call ambiance.

Furthermore, Cultivate won’t be serving alcohol, and I know that if I’m taking my dad out for dinner, he’s going to want a glass of wine. No discussion.

“It’s elevated, classic Northwest, with a touch of local things,” Lance LaFave, HFS manager of program-operations, told The Daily. I know I’m not the only student who would say I’d rather take that touch of local and put the funds toward lowering my residence-hall bill (at least, if I still did live in the residence halls). Terms like “unique dining option” and “gastropub” are not ones that should be associated with campus dining, and although the intention of increasing the UW’s appeal may have been at the heart of deciding to open Cultivate, it’s unnecessary.

Even though MacRae said the financial accessibility was an important factor in its creation, the expected price range for dishes at Cultivate is nothing close to what students usually pay when going out to eat. As students, our motto is the more the better, the cheaper the better. Additionally, HFS will continue to raise its prices: There will be a 5.5 percent increase in room prices and a 1.2 percent increase in dining prices for the 2012-13 year. Housing rates have been raised every year since 2002, fluctuating between 3.3 and 6.4 percent increases. And now students get a Capitol Hill-wannabe restaurant.

This will be the first full-service restaurant the UW has ever had, and as I scoped out other university dining options, I think it may be an anomaly for college campuses in general. Instead of focusing on developing a classy dining establishment, HFS should be looking at ways to provide a “unique experience” that comes with a cheaper price tag for students. The increase in food trucks is a great example of how HFS is capable of doing so, while the decision to open Cultivate is a head-scratcher.

Good luck with your hopeful idea, HFS, but as far as my own dining budget goes, I’ll be sticking with $5 pho and the lunch buffets scattered around the Ave — it trumps having a waiter bring out my dinner any day, and leaves money for dessert.

Reach Opinion Editor Katie Burke at opinion@dailyuw.com.

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