Bartlett: Plight of the Foco Loner

Removing the aisle of chairs in Foco is far from beneficial.

by Nicholas Bartlett | 10/11/18 2:15am

 Dark days are upon us of the Dartmouth Introvert. Dark days, indeed. Foco (the Class of 1953 Commons), that pristine chapel in which we worship the God of buffets most delectable, has succumbed to the latest in a long line of debilitating plagues: castigating the loner. Indeed, the bar-esque chair layout that once adorned the wall opposite the kitchen windows on the “light side” (for the common folk: the well-lit section of the first-floor seating area) has been supplanted by a series of two person-booths. Booth-table-booth; lather well, rinse thoroughly and repeat until the space, which I’ve termed “introvert row” lies filled to the brim. And quite honestly, the decision to do so befuddles me, as this (d)evolution lies more inefficient and inconvenient — to solitary foco-goers, at least — than its apparently maligned predecessor.

Yes, calling a few tables “inefficient” may seem ludicrous. “Throw him in the looney bin,” many will say. But perhaps allow me to define the term “efficiency” before they whip out the dunce cap., Efficiency within the realm of dining room seating consists of two major ideas: maximum occupancy and mean occupancy. The first is simply a matter of how many people could fit within a given space. The second, however, pertains more to the more important quotidian: How many people typically do fit within a given space? As with two sides of the same nickel, one must understand both very clearly before determining the victor of a coin flip.

Allow me to do my due diligence. Foco’s new (and unimproved) maximum occupancy sits at a hefty 10 individuals, two per each of the five booths — which seems far from egregious. That is, until you realize that this in no way, shape or form improves upon what was already there. Varying from 10 to 12 chairs and, thereby, individuals (depending upon the thievery and rearrangement by the student body), my beloved Foco’s introvert row reigned at most superior and at worst equal to its subpar successor. But say we assume that the minimum, 10, stuck around long enough to warrant knighthood as the de-facto occupancy. It can then be determined that this is nothing more than a lateral move, a simple aesthetic swap. No big deal whatsoever.

And while it’s spectacular to think that way, this is exactly why one should also account for mean occupancy. The aforementioned “introvert row” appealed near exclusively to solitary diners, meaning that its capacity was directly a function of the quantity of lone-foco-goers. Thus, at its nadir this scrumptious nook bore a grand zero people but more often stored within the range of six (halfway full) to 10 (near full). And at first glance New Foco does not appear to differ greatly from this precedent. After all, in the worst-case scenario that only one person decides to plop down within each booth, it would still host five people (the halfway point) — only one shy of the former’s median. The key distinction in these numbers? Classic Foco’s occupancy of six still possessed anywhere from four to six more spots to accommodate further lone diners; New Foco can offer nothing in that regard. Think about it: if individuals still choose to eat alone within the haven they once knew and loved, they now effectively occupy twice the space that they did previously. This risks cutting the availability of my once-beloved recess in half. I think it’s safe to say that Dartmouth cannot justify its decision through an objective, wholly utilitarian lens. Because as I’ve established, it most definitely would not pass—more akin to a proposal dotted with red ink and aggressively labeled “SEE ME!!” in the upper left-hand corner than one simply scribbled with “Well done.”

Some may disagree with my pragmatic (and somewhat biased) interpretation of the change. They may argue that this is no — nor has it ever been — an issue of quantity, but quality. High chairs overlooking a bar in no way reign atop the list of “most comfortable and personable seating arrangements.” Their counterparts, however, those softly padded and quite spacey booths, are just the opposite; comfort and socialization remain the core of their purpose. To that end, one can very obviously see how your more gregarious and/or leisurely diner would prefer Dartmouth’s current layout to its forebear.

But this approach overlooks a very key detail: that comfort is as much a mental concept as it is a physical one (and sociable, by extension). And for many Foco-goers, crowded social spaces and the inevitability of social interaction serve as catalysts to misery and anxiety, not joy and revelry. “Introvert row” acted as an oasis to these lone-wolf diners; it provided them with quick, diverse meals and mitigated a great deal of the stress that accompanies such raucous dining halls. Now this security blanket is gone, more “comfortable” options are conquering this once pristine area of refuge — even though similar options were already replete both within the “light side” and upstairs. Yet even if Dartmouth were to align with the “comfort-oriented” model, it has largely failed in this regard. For they elected to ease the burden of the demographic at whom dining halls (such as my beloved Foco) are aimed to begin with. They chose poorly. And now, my once great haven lies both less efficient and more cumbersome to its former patrons. And while two-person groups will continue to have options outside of those five, seemingly insignificant booths, the lone wolf, robbed of its home, must now scavenge.