Who Likes Pasta Bar? A Statistical Study

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Students getting their pasta. Photo by Jiuxing June Xie.

Held every Wednesday and Sunday dinner, pasta bar has become a Swarthmore institution. The line for pasta bar tends to extend well into the ice-cream area during peak dinner times. Many students enthusiastically support the biweekly bar, but it also has its fair share of vocal detractors. Considering how divisive pasta bar can seem to be on campus, the Gazette felt a real study of just who likes and doesn’t like pasta bar was long overdue.

We tabled at Sharples on three separate instances at times ranging from 4:30 PM to 6:45 PM; one of those was on a day featuring pasta bar. Conducting the survey exclusively at Sharples certainly introduced some bias into our data collection. But this problem is perhaps not too significant, since those who don’t eat at Sharples don’t regularly experience pasta bar anyway.

The survey asked how students feel about pasta bar on a scale from 1 to 5, as well as how they thought pasta bar compared to other Sharples bars, also on a scale from 1 to 5. Students were also asked their preferred sauce, whether they do any sort of special preparation to their pasta, and they were offered a choice of reasons as to why (or if) they eat pasta bar. Demographic data was also collected, including year, geographic origin, any meat-eating restrictions, dorm, and athletic status. We also recorded the time that respondents entered Sharples.

170 students took the survey: 36 freshmen, 45 sophomores, 46 juniors, and 41 seniors. 17 international students were included in the sample, and 38 respondents were athletes. Only 30 humanities majors responded to the survey, with the other 140 about equally split among the natural and social sciences.

The primary result is sure to disappoint lovers and haters of pasta bar alike: on average, students gave pasta bar almost exactly 3 out of 5. Results for the comparison to other bars were nearly identical. On the absolute scale, 19 students gave it a 1, and 19 gave it a 5, indicating that those most passionate about pasta bar essentially cancel each other out. The mode response was 3 out of 5 by a comfortable margin.

No statistically significant effect was found across class year, region, dorm or major. Athletes were found to like pasta bar slightly more than the rest of the student body, while international students liked it slightly less. Vegetarians showed a mild preference for pasta bar, while those who eat meat with some dietary restrictions (such as keeping Kosher or not eating red meat) liked it much less. None of the 170 students surveyed indicated that they were vegan.

A time effect was found before and after around 6:10 PM. People who ate after 6:10 PM were found to enjoy pasta bar significantly more than those that ate earlier. One possible explanation is that the lines start to dissipate around this time, so people who tend to eat around then would have a more positive conception of the bar.

Almost 50% of respondents chose “I eat pasta bar when the line is short” from a list of four reasons for eating pasta bar. It is up for debate whether these are the same people generating pasta bar’s consistently long lines. 13% of respondents said they do not eat pasta bar, with other respondents about equally split between “I eat pasta bar because I love it” and “I only eat it when there is nothing else.”

Unsurprisingly, freshmen were found to be less likely to do special preparations to their pasta than the other years. Those that do special preparations were found to like pasta bar more than other students.

More surprising results came from analysis of people’s preferred sauces. People from the Mid-Atlantic region were found to prefer meat-based sauces much more than other regions, to the detriment of marinara sauce. Those from the West Coast were found to have a strong aversion to alfredo sauce, as were social science majors (even when controlling for region).

Each class year, on the other hand, had a strikingly similar distribution of sauce preferences, though older students may have been slightly more likely to prefer a mixture of sauces.

The survey also provided a space for students to share their recipes for special preparations. Many students simply add Parmesan cheese with a seasoning of crushed red pepper on their pasta. As many as 9 respondents (about 5%) demonstrated that classic Swarthmore wit by putting “I eat it” as an answer for this section. Many students add additional cheese on their pasta and microwave it. Another popular option was adding a wide variety of vegetables from the salad bar. One student noted that they hide a chicken patty under their pasta, and that it pleasantly surprises them each time. Some students use unorthodox sauce choices, with one adding vinaigrette, one adding ranch dressing, and one adding Sriracha.

There was also a comments section on the survey that allowed students to voice their inner feelings about pasta bar. By far the most popular comment was some form of complaint about the repetition of the bar. A number of comments offered praise for the Sunday garlic bread. Some students praised pasta bar it as “consistent” or “reliable” while others decried it as “boring.” There were also, of course, a great deal of both “love it” and “hate it” types of comments. Others suggested possible sauce changes or pasta shape changes. There were also a few observational comments, such as “it’s heavy” and “today’s not pasta bar.”

Have any other questions about pasta bar? Send them to ask@daily.swarthmore.edu.

Jeff Kahn ’10 contributed reporting.

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