The Rathskeller has been the on-campus gathering place for University of Miami students, alumni and visitors for decades and celebrated its 40th birthday this year. While many UM students cherish their time at the iconic campus location, few have had their college experiences shaped as distinctly by the Rat as the restaurant’s student staff.
Senior Rico Dominguez transferred to UM after his freshman year at Metro State University in Denver, Colo., with nothing more than $2,000 and high aspirations. During his first semester at UM, Dominguez joined the staff of the Rat looking for a way to make some money, but he found much more than that.
“Everyone is friends with each other and we all work together, hang out together and even go on vacations together,” Dominguez said. “It was really a great way to meet people with similar interests, especially as a transfer student without much money.”
The restaurant is often bustling with patrons, but the professionalism of the staff makes it easy to forget that the restaurant is run almost entirely by students, many of whom did not have prior waiting or cooking experience.
“I was surprised to hear that many of the cooks didn’t have experience in a restaurant before the Rat, especially given how great the food at the Rat is,” sophomore Kristen Calzadilla said.
However, Dominguez had experience working as a fryer at Char Grill, a burger restaurant in Denver. Once he began working at the Rat, he started out in the kitchen as a cook and eventually became a waiter.
Dominguez, who had not worked as a server before, found that his job required a steady time commitment. With a demanding schedule as a public relations student, he found working at the Rat to be a challenge.
Junior Jon Senk, who has worked as a waiter at the Rat for more than three years, agreed with Dominguez.
“I work every day before and after class, so it’s a lot like being the president of an academic club or on a sports team,” said Senk, a political science and business law student. “It takes strong time-management skills, just like any other job, but the Rat is really understanding of that.”
Despite the challenge, Senk, a Miami native, saw many benefits to working at the Rat.
“You make really good money, especially through tips,” Senk said. “It’s enough to cover a lot of my living expenses.”
Senk also said he has gotten to know many interesting people through serving.
“As a waiter, I get to see people outside of the classroom or the office, whether it’s professors, administrators or friends,” he said. “They come to the Rat to really just let loose, and that’s always cool to see.”
Senk said that being a server on campus can be difficult, partly because of the dual role that many of the Rat employees play.
“A lot of people that come in forget that we’re students too,” he said. “That can be really frustrating sometimes.”
The Rathskeller was officially opened in 1972 in what was known as Gautier Hall. For nearly 40 years, the iconic on-campus restaurant was located next to Lake Osceola, with a majority of seating located outside. In 2011, construction of the Student Activity Center brought about the relocation of the Rat to the University Center, where the restaurant currently has more than 70 employees.
Dominguez and Senk have each worked at both the Rat in its original location and in the UC.
Senk said that while the old Rat was busier, it had a more laid-back atmosphere than the location in the UC. Also, the staff at the old Rat was a more tight-knit group because there were fewer employees, according to Dominguez.
Dominguez felt that the old location provided a level of privacy that was lost in the move to the UC.
“We were able to do stuff like hang out after hours and watch movies because no one could see inside the old Rat,” he said. ”That’s not something we can do anymore.”
The Rat will take up two floors of the Student Activities Center when the building opens in fall 2013.
“The old Rat was darker and more traditional. The new Rat will be more open like this one in the UC, but with two new bars and the restaurant by the lake,” Senk said. “It’ll still have the feel of the old place. I’ll definitely be back to check out the new Rat.”