The Semester Switch: What it means for restaurants

Normally after Thanksgiving, the town of Athens, Ohio becomes restful as Ohio University is closed until January. With all universities in Ohio having to switch to semesters starting the 2012-2013 academic year, this is the first fall (in a long time) students return to Athens after Thanksgiving.

Though some may have experienced semesters before, many others have not. This switch has caused a stir in businesses and restaurants alike. It may not seem like a switch of the academic calendar could affect restaurants and businesses, but this change caused many adjustments in the hours of Athens businesses.

The summer also had many workers noticing a change in hours — as well as customers.

“During the summer, we had a whole town-based business,” said Greg Cunningham, manager of Court Street Diner. “As soon as all the kids come back, all the townies go away, and we basically had to — for three, four weeks — had to rebuild our business.”

Typically, Ohio University students return to the school the first week of September, around Labor Day. This year, students returned anywhere from the middle to late August. This caused for crowds to pick up earlier, and also for people to return to jobs earlier.

“We had many students who couldn’t come back to work right away because they were at other jobs or internships,” said Carly McMakin, former manager of Jefferson Market.

McMakin, a senior anthropology major at OU, noted that the market had to adjust their hours and stay open later on semesters. The markets were also open the weekend of Thanksgiving break.

The shorter summer also affected uptown restaurants.

“Everyone started coming back about two weeks before semesters even started,” said Nikcole Petkov, a manager at Brenen’s Coffee & Café. “It was definitely a lot busier this summer than it was last summer.”

The school year started earlier, the summer was shorter and winter break is shorter under this new semester system. But, OU students don’t head back to the brick-lined streets until mid-January of 2013. Typically the school year resumes immediately after the New Year holiday.

“Overall, people may not come back for part of the break,” Petkov said. “Instead of having to stay home, for Christmas and New Year’s, they might come back around New Year’s and then trickle back from there on. So, we’re actually expecting to be a little bit busier this break than we were last break.”

Not every uptown restaurant has such a rosy outlook on the upcoming winter break.         Employees at Court Street Diner feel the winter break means less business this year than it has in the past.

When entering Court Street Diner on a typical Thursday night, under the quarter system, it would be packed with students and “townies” alike. However, when visiting the restaurant on a Thursday evening on semesters, only three tables are full with one person sitting at the counter.

“It’s been really slow all week,” said Elisha Gud, a waitress at Court Street Diner. “If there isn’t anything going on uptown, we normally sit here and hope for business. But when there is stuff going on uptown, we get a busy rush.”

The employees at Court Street Diner aren’t as confidant as Petkov is about students ringing in the new year in Athens.

“We normally think that we’d be busy on New Year’s Day,” said Cunningham, “but we don’t think we’re going to be this year. Because everyone is still going to be gone. Students normally come into town a few days early — just to be here for New Year’s.”

The student employees feel the semester has run them dry both physically and monetarily.

“Normally, people have money to go out and do stuff. Normally, we’re not in school right now and people are at home working,” said Tress Monte Calvo, an Ohio University student and Court Street Diner waitress. “I typically would go home with $40 in my pocket on a normal night on quarters, but this year, the most I’ve gotten is about $20.”

This switch to semesters has meant a lot of change for everyone in Athens. While some see good aspects to it, others see the difficulties of adjusting to a new schedule.

“We used to be able to go back through our records and figure out what kind of day we expect for a certain day in history,” said Cunningham. “But now, we can’t do that. It’s all new.”

Regardless of the positive, negative or indifferent reactions to semesters, one thing is certain: the switch to semesters has cause a spur in a change of hours and customer behavior at restaurants and businesses in Athens. These changes are going to take some time to get used to.

Visiting Athens this winter? Check out this Google map on what restaurants and businesses had to adjust their hours for semesters.

[NOTE: If you cannot see the restaurant markers on this Google map, either click the ‘View Larger Map’ link or click the minus button twice.]

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