Legends of Notre Dame doesn't look like it belongs on a college campus. Its restaurant and pub are continually filled with patrons, many of them adults. They often drink wine or some of the 22 draft and 64 bottled beers offered.
The club area, meanwhile, rocks to local and out-of-town bands on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
And while not typical of the many other foodservice operations on the University of Notre Dame campus in South Bend, IN, Legends's debut last fall highlights a seemingly growing trend on college campuses. That trend is the increasing prevalence of on-campus cash- or flex-dollar foodservice establishments also serving alcoholic beverages. In other words, campus pubs.
"We wanted to provide a safe place for students who are of legal drinking age to do so," explains FSD David Prentkowski. "Legends also provides a more 'adult' alternative to the many other gathering places on campus which are designed for younger crowds."
Of course, most undergraduate college students cannot legally buy alcoholic beverages. The 1984 federal law change that raised the national legal drinking age to 21 effectively ended the era of the rollicking—and profitable—campus rathskeller.
But today's campus pubs compensate for reduced alcohol-related revenues with a variety of strategies. The most prominent is an increased emphasis on food sales as well as non-alcoholic "mocktails" and other non-alcoholic beverages. The "mocktails" are especially popular bar beverage alternatives that mimic alcoholic drinks, except they contain no alcohol.
Many campus pub operators also seek to build traffic with various high-interest events: live music, trivia and karaoke contests, television events and a variety of arcade games.
At many campuses, the foodservice director takes responsibility for the pub's operation. At some others, it is run by the student union or some other semi-independent entity.
Foodservice operators who oversee pubs don't seem overly concerned about the challenges of "running a bar" (even though they are careful to manage the availability of alcohol). They say the establishments are an important part of campus life. The pubs provide an otherwise-unavailable social space, they argue. Perhaps more crucially, they are a "safe space" where students who are of legal age can get a drink without going off-campus.
"We're building community by the pint," jokes Gary Ratliff, director of university centers at the University of California-San Diego in La Jolla. "La Jolla is not a traditional college town, so the school tried to create that feeling at Porters [the campus pub] because otherwise we don't have a lot of places for students to hang out. When you're at Porters, you really don't feel like you're on campus."
"This is a large campus and over time it became clear that lots of the students leave to hang out in town," adds Nat Greenspan, marketing manager for the recently opened Blue Wall Pub on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "We felt that if we could provide students a reputable on-campus setting it might reduce accidents and alcohol-related problems and help teach personal responsibility."
About half of the country's four-year institutions of higher learning maintain places on campus "where individuals can purchase alcohol by the drink," according to the College Alcohol Survey conducted by the Center for the Advancement of Public Health at George Mason University.
The tri-annual survey also showed the percentage of schools with such establishments saw a statistically significant increase (from 40% to 50%) between 1997 and 2000 (the number receded slightly, within the margin of error, to 46% in 2003).
Still, there are obstacles: state laws prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages on public property, regulatory barriers and religious objections. Five years ago, Lehigh (PA) University's plans for a campus pub were short-circuited by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Commission. The Commission refused to grant the school a license.
Food as a Revenue Driver
The Blue Wall illustrates the ups and downs of campus pubs over the past few decades. It was a traditional campus watering hole for decades but stopped serving alcohol after the 1984 law change and became simply a retail food outlet. Then, last spring, alcohol service was reintroduced on a trial basis. The move had the support of the student government association and the rest of the campus community. So far, the experiment has been a success.
Food is the star at Marquette University's Sports Annex pub in Milwaukee. Food revenues more than double alcohol revenues, says Jerry Dohr, foodservice manager for Sodexho Campus Services at Marquette.
"We consider Annex a programming space that happens to contain a sports bar, a bowling center and a multi-use court area," Dohr says. "I think a lot of universities have some form of this kind of establishment, but because of changes in drinking ages and the focus on alcohol abuse, we're being encouraged to reposition them as social gathering spots."
The Cellar opened about six years ago on the campus of the University of Richmond. Today, it derives at least 80 percent of its sales from food, says Diane (Dee) Hardy, director of dining services.
"This generation lives on the computer and tends to cocoon," Hardy explains. "So socialization opportunities have taken on more importance. On this campus we are somewhat space-tight and students needed a late-night socialization space."
Socialization aside, food was the key to the Cellar's success, Hardy emphasizes. "In the beginning it was very much a struggle," she says. "We have gotten more innovative in opening up the menu to board dollars and found we have an increase in food sales and a decrease in alcohol."
The Cellar is one of several late-evening food options for the school's 3,000 students on most nights. Food is served from a small kitchen at the back. The menu is a combination of upscale sandwiches and typical bar food.
Divide and Conquer
At some other schools, the drinking and foodservice spaces are divided. That makes it easier to operate them independently and with different hours.
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Stiftskeller pub is one of the dining and entertainment options in the Wisconsin Union complex. It occupies an open space with a wide seating and entertainment area leading to the bar at one end. A companion outlet, the Rathskeller, is next door.
The Stiftskeller serves alcohol and a few "bar food" snacks like nachos, hot pretzels, and a variety of chips. It opens at 3 p.m. and stays open until 10:45 (11:45 on Thursday and 12:45 on Friday and Saturday).
The Rathskeller has a fuller range of food options like grilled specialties, soups, salads, sandwiches, tacos and burritos, but with no alcohol service. It opens at 7 a.m. for breakfast and serves until 11 p.m. (12:45 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Food is also the major draw at the Bear's Lair at the University of California-Berkeley. Here, the space has been leased to Jupiter, a noted brewpub operator in Berkeley. The arrangement is similar to leasing foodservice space in a servery to a high-profile restaurant brand, says Operations Manager John Rolle of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC). ASUC operates Bear's Lair through Jupiter.
"The space remains the property of the university, and the name belongs to the university, but the management is done by Jupiter," Rolle explains. "It allows us to have professional management as well as taking advantage of Jupiter's reputation. For example, Bear's Lair features Jupiter's specialty beers, which they also serve at their own pub elsewhere in the city."
Jupiter revamped the Bear's Lair menu two years ago. Since then, the Lair has become famous not only for the 20 beers it has on tap but also for its pizzas, huge panini sandwiches and big bowl salads.
Open daily by lunchtime, Bear's Lair offers Cal students an additional on-campus retail dining option. It also serves as a destination spot for following the school's athletic teams (the Golden Bears). Golden Bear memorabilia festoon the premises.
Athletic events are the most reliable traffic builders at many campus pubs. At Marquette, the Sports Annex is the "official home" of the school's hugely popular men's and women's basketball teams. The pub runs shuttles to the home games at the Bradley Center and US Cellular Arena. Those without tickets, as well as spectators for all away games, can catch the events on the Annex's 25 TV monitors and its big-screen TV. At other times, students can enjoy the Annex's arcade games and pool tables.
Other campus pubs offer a variety of live entertainment events to get patrons in.
The club at Legends of Notre Dame features campus and local bands and a DJ on Thursday nights. National bands come in on Friday and Saturday and play until 2am. Then, a DJ takes over until 4am.
Besides live acts, pubs leverage communal television events—popular dramas, comedies and high-interest sporting events like National Football League games on fall Sunday afternoons—to draw crowds. Many have multiple screens or big-screen units. They also offer comfortable seating—couches and armchairs—as well as amusements like pool tables, video games and jukeboxes.
Other pubs use gimmicks like open mike nights and karaoke contests to attract students. For many, the events prove to be the major factor in determining customer counts.
The Stiftskeller draws an average of 350 patrons on a weekend night, but that obscures a wide swing in head counts.
"Popularity on a given night really depends on the program," says Julie Vincent, Wisconsin-Madison's assistant director of food & residential services. "We have live entertainment on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and the number of people depends on who the band appeals to."
Security is Job #1
Campus pubs must operate in an environment with elevated sensitivity to the dangers of alcohol abuse. They must also overcome a host of legal, regulatory and philosophical challenges. These range from buying costly liability insurance, satisfying local liquor control laws and offering rigorous and continual staff training, to having effective systems in place to monitor customers, keeping strict tabs on inventory and just dealing with the implications of a "bar on campus."
A survey published several years ago in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2000, vol. 19, pp.24-29) indicated they've been successful. It showed underage drinking by college students to be much more likely to occur away from campus, at bars or private social events. Even on-campus functions like dorm parties and fraternity events accounted for more than twice the incidence of underage drinking as on-campus pubs, according to this survey.
Offering an attractive, safe alternative for restless younger students is why many campus pubs open their doors to underage patrons. In doing so, they concede the added pressure on security to keep them from getting drinks at the bar or from fellow students.
Most campus pubs sort customers at the entrance, using wristbands or hand stamps.
"Even if you're 99, we'll wristband you" says Diane (Dee) Hardy, director of dining services at the University of Richmond (VA), of door policies at the university's Cellar campus pub. "We also don't serve beer in pitchers to reduce the risk of drinks being passed to underage students."
At Notre Dame, Legends must sift customers both by age and by connection to the school. That's because the restaurant and pub areas are open to the public. However, the club space is only open to Notre Dame students and their guests.
To minimize the inconvenience, patrons are validated in the entrance lobby. Those old enough to drink alcoholic beverages get armbands. These allow them to drink in the restaurant, pub or club while mingling with all ages of students.
Another security issue for campus pubs is inventory control. At U-Mass, after an initial experiment with "jigger" measuring cups, the Blue Wall Pub shifted to automatic pour spouts on its liquor bottles. These more efficiently regulate how much is being dispensed per drink, says Nat Greenspan, marketing manager. Blue Wall also does weekly inventories to monitor stock levels and quickly identify unexplained "shrinkage."
Most campus pub operators say they have few problems. Students know the rules. They also know security is watching, and sometimes not just the staff.
"Security from the university comes around regularly, and the city law department is a frequent and very welcome visitor as well," says Jerry Dohr, foodservice manager for Sodexho Campus Services at Marquette. Sodexho operates Marquette's on-campus Annex pub.
Managers know everyone's under scrutiny.
"In California, if a pub serves an underage person, not just the owner but the server faces a penalty," says Gary Ratliff, director of university centers at the University of California-San Diego in La Jolla. "That puts everyone on alert."