Editorial: The lone cup effect

Eating is an important social aspect of campus dining. A fact that many University of Missouri students pick up on quickly.  Everyone has varied opinions on which dining hall is better than others, but most would agree that a basic set of unspoken rules is followed whereever you choose to dine.

I experienced this phenomenon firsthand one morning at breakfast while at Rollins, one of the three dining hall choices at MU.  Food in hand, I headed for the seating area, but as I approached the first table in my line of site, I noticed a single plastic cup mostly empty sitting in front of one of the chairs.  Immediately, I switched my path to the table clear of dishes that was next to my now vetoed choice.

I did not think much about switching table choices. It was instinctive, but then I began to notice other people doing the same exact thing I had. In the 30 minutes I was at Rollins, 10 people approached the empty table. Then as soon as the lone cup was spotted the students veered off towards some other table free of dishes.

If you’ve never eaten in a dining hall you might assume that college kids just cannot stand a dirty table — that would be wrong. The real issue with the cup is that we can’t impose upon someone without them being there because an awkward situation may arise. We have come to college to grow up, learn and meet new people. Yet as soon as we walk into a dining hall our typical tendency to tackle these institutions goes out the window.

What comes into play then instead? The unspoken rules I mentioned earlier, one of which is never to sit at a seemingly occupied table if the occupier is absent. Steven Hart, MU student majoring in biology, explains how he views the concept of lone dishes in the dining hall.

“You don’t sit there because you don’t know those people,” Hart said. “That is a social stigma.”

Sitting at a potentially occupied table without permission may be a dining faux pas, but Hart and fellow MU student, Andrew H’ebert, definitely agree that dining halls are a great way to meet new people.

“The best thing to do is go with a friend with the intent of meeting someone,” H’ebert said.

The duo explained that as long as you’ve got a buddy and the table of new people you approach has the diners at it, you could always ask to sit down.  Invading their space without permission starts the scenario off awkwardly, but by asking first you can kick off the conversation and make new friends.

The advice of Hart and H’ebert applies to people who go to dining halls with friends, but what about those dreaded times when everyone else in your circle has already eaten? While some halls offer carry out options, and other places offer point systems that you can take food with you, some may crave something that lacks an alternative option. And what about those days that you just have to have Great Wok at Plaza 900?

“If you’re by yourself get in and get out,” H’ebert said.

While this view may seem conflicting of the previous advice the duo offered, it seems that some simply do not like solo dining.

Personally, I do not mind an early breakfast alone, but I’m one of the unfortunate souls with dreaded 8 a.m. classes.  I will admit to avoiding lunch and dinner crowds by myself though. I feel that it is awkward enough to sit by yourself while the rest of the table is just briefly gone to grab a dessert. However, these thoughts are completely absurd considering I have never looked around the room and silently condemned people for dining alone, and I am sure very few ever do such a thing. Yet most of us still avoid dining alone at all costs rather than looking at it as an opportunity to meet other students.

Why do we put so much significance in our dining rituals, and how do we all automatically know the rules of the trade as soon as we become students? It is one of those life mysteries that we all seem to abide by and catch on to by nature. One thing for sure is that the dining halls provide a completely hidden aspect of MU’s social culture.

H’ebert put it best when he said,“ Everybody has to eat, so why not meet new people in the process?”

Whether it’s with friends or on a dreaded solo adventure, everyone should consider branching out on their next dining hall excursion and breaking through the supposed “awkwardness” we all fear so much. You never know who you may meet.

By Allyson Lacy
Corner Post Staff Writer