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Truck dining acquires a touch of class

Customers of the food trucks behind Building 56 got a pleasant surprise last Thursday when undergraduates donned black and white waiter attire, and placed chairs and cloth-covered tables on the grassy area nearby so that truck diners could eat their lunch in a makeshift caf���.

Although Chez Camions (roughly, "house of trucks" in French) served only iced spring water, the caf��� had a steady stream of customers who seemed happy with the BYOL (bring your own lunch) arrangement. Most diners carried the ubiquitous styrofoam container from the trucks to the caf���, where waiters seated them at tables with white cloths and napkins, vases of bright red mini-carnations and flatware.

A strolling violinist serenaded the many diners in the area, including those sitting on the benches and grass nearby.

Four students in 4.301 (Foundations in the Visual Arts, taught by Professor Ritsuko Taho of architecture) created the temporary dining area as a class project to study how changes in a public space would affect social interaction. They operated the four-table caf��� from about 11:45am-1:15pm on May 14.

"This place gets four stars," said customer Eric Liu, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, who was sitting with Grace Wang, a sophomore in electrical engineering. "This is the best in inexpensive dining. It's much better than Newbury Street."

"It's not often that you find open-air dining with live music," said Glenn Edelson (SB '76), who works off-campus and just happened to walk over to the trucks with a friend that day. He was surprised to find that a cafe had materialized. "This was serendipitous," he said.

"Based on the number of glasses, napkins and other supplies we went through, I'd guess we served about 80 people," said Elliot Schwartz, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) who worked on the project along with EECS sophomore Oludotun Fashoyin, sophomore Paul Lopez and freshman Jennifer McKeehan, both of materials science and engineering.

Violinist Aaron Mazzeo, a freshman in mechanical engineering who is not enrolled in 4.301, volunteered his talents. "He's a friend who got suckered into helping," Ms. McKeehan said. Mr. Mazzeo was also the only member of the group to earn cash instead of credit.

"We made $13 in tips over the hour and a half we were there, and we gave it all to Aaron," said Mr. Schwartz.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 20, 1998.

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