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The Penn University Club reopened on Tuesday and will be the new location for the Penn Mentor Meals Program. Credit: Gordon Ho

The Penn University Club reopened on Tuesday, serving lunch for the first time since closing in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Located on the second floor of the Inn at Penn, the University Club offers a buffet-style dining experience to members of the Penn community. It is open Monday through Thursday for faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, and alumni at a cost of $18.95 per meal, according to the announcement from Penn Hospitality Services.  

“The club is a place for colleagues to be able to come together and engage in a conversation over a meal,” Penn Hospitality Director of Business Services Pamela Lampitt said. “The environment is very different [from other Penn dining options] — it has a very nice, collegial feel to it.”

Since closing in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lampitt said that the demand was not sufficient to warrant reopening until this year, as many faculty members adopted hybrid schedules after the pandemic and were not on campus to utilize it. 

The club is offering the same array of lunch options that were available before COVID-19, according to Hospitality Services University Engagement Coordinator Ray Franckewitz. These options include entrées, sandwiches, sides, desserts, and beverages that rotate daily, as well as a salad bar.

In honor of the club’s reopening, Penn Hospitality Services waived the $75 annual membership fee that was previously required to dine. Dues will be reinstated in January, though new employees will receive a full year of free membership.

“Many people who used to be members retired or now have a hybrid schedule, so we’re not really sure who our base is anymore,” Lampitt said. “We are using this semester to build a new base before charging people for a membership again.”

Lampitt added that the University Club team is keeping track of who taps their IDs to dine so that they can reach out to regulars and invite them to be members at the end of the year. Academic departments, which utilize the club for meals with visiting scholars and potential candidates, still have to pay a departmental fee for the fall semester.

The University Club will also be the new location for the Penn Mentor Meals Program. This program provides students with the opportunity to connect with professors or other mentors over a meal. Offerings range from one-on-one lunches to large meals for classes and other groups with up to 100 students. 

The Mentor Meals Program was well-established before COVID-19, Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger said. Daily meal attendance at the club before the pandemic averaged 100 people or more when the Mentor Meals Program was “really robust,” Lea-Kruger added.

The program was reinstated during the spring 2023 semester, operating out of Lauder College House. Lampitt said the program “wasn’t as popular” when it was held at Lauder and expressed optimism that its return to the University Club would help build its popularity.

“Like with anything, the program has to build with momentum, communication and awareness that it exists,” Lampitt added. “Different departments are reaching out and we’re preparing flyers to help ensure that happens.”

Above all, Lea-Kruger emphasized that Hospitality Services hopes that “relationship building” will continue to happen at the University Club throughout its first post-COVID-19 year.

“We are hoping that people have been anxiously waiting for the club to return, and that all the people who are new to the University will also become familiar with it,” she said. “We also hope that the club will help reengage the camaraderie that can be hard to develop on campus.”