The location that I selected for observation was The 8, a dining area in McMahon, one of the residential dorms on campus. The reason I selected this location for observation was because there is always large number of students dining here, at all hours of the day, and I thought it would be interesting to record in my field notes the behaviors of the different types of students who liked to spend their time there, since I have noticed before that there is a wide range of activities that people do in The 8. I recorded what the students ordered for food, what they were doing while eating, and whether or not they had company or were just eating alone. I also included some sketches of the layout and interior.
Practice #1: Individuals that ate with one or more persons stayed for the shortest amounts of time. The students would purchase food, sit down with friends, and once they finished eating, they would leave as a group. These individuals seemed to be more dressed up and wearing nicer clothing, and the main focus of the group seemed to be socialization, instead of the actual meals. Individual that ate in groups tended to purchase food from the same location in The 8 (for example, 3/5 individuals in a particular group bought pizza from Pagliacci Pizza — another example is a group of two both eating salads). People that ate in groups generally talked for the entire time while eating, with very few silence breaks. However, there was no pattern to where people in groups would sit. Throughout the entire dining hall, people who were in loud groups and individuals eating alone were all scattered. There was no location that was quieter than the other locations. However, these people did not show a preference for booths and often sat out in the open, due to the large number of people in some of the groups.
Practice #2: Individuals that stayed for the longest amount of time had assignments pulled up on their laptops and ate while they worked on homework and/or studied. These individuals were usually dressed casually and did not make eye contact with anyone. They focused on their work the whole time, and focused on studying as the primary task while eating took a secondary role. These individuals took a much longer time to finish their food. I noticed that these individuals often times had another person studying with them, but usually no one would talk. Many of these individuals had soda cups and/or coffee with them instead of full meals. While individuals seemed to favor more intimate booths over tables out in the open, there was no particular area that those that were studying seemed to prefer. However, another observation is that the booths with outlets for charging were almost always taken by people who were studying and/or completing work.
Practice #3: Individuals that stayed in The 8 alone while watching TV or reading news on their computers stayed for about as long as those that dined with many people. These people purchased food from a range of places, but often times they purchased meals that were messy and difficult to carry on the go. These individuals also tended to purchase meals that were larger and many also had soda cups with them. These individuals did not often make eye contact with anyone, much like those that were studying. They also sat in a way that was more leisurely and ate slowly. The clothing that they wore tended to be much more casual — an example of this is that many of them were wearing sweatpants and a few times, people even wore their pajamas down to eat. Even though these individuals were eating while they television and/or read articles off their laptops, eating seemed to be the main focus, unlike those that were here to socialize or study. These individuals seemed to arrive at times when the dining hall was busiest and sat wherever there was an open seat. Intimate booths were also more favored in general, instead of tables with chairs.
I thought that the most interesting practice that is worth further investigation is the practice of dining and studying, or doing homework. This is due to the lack of organization in where people doing different practices liked to sit, even though optimizing one area for people who wanted to study, and another for people who were dining with friends would be ideal. Often times, if there was a large and loud group sitting near people who were studying, the people who were studying would continuously glance over in an annoyed fashion and even sometimes pack up their belongings and leave. A design challenge could be designing a new dining hall that has locations that are more soundproof and quiet with good lighting and many outlets, while the other areas could be optimized for a comfortable, enjoyable environment for those that want a social experience while dining. Another research effort is to observe how often people who eat out with groups go out, so that the different areas made for people who are trying to quietly focus and areas for people who want to enjoy meals with friends can be created with enough space, so that one group doesn’t end up needing to sit in the wrong area due to lack of places to sit.