Cameron Bell looks forward to this day. She and her friends have different schedules, different classes, different lives. But this gives Bell, a 20-year-old junior at Georgetown University, and her pals a chance to reflect and check in with one another.
It is a standing appointment, she said, a solid commitment. It is Chicken Finger Thursday at Leo O’Donovan Hall, the Georgetown dining hall.
“I feel like I probably decided my major over chicken fingers,” she said. “We have those sorts of discussions. Important life things.”
Yes, chicken fingers — that powerhouse of the dive bar kitchen, that bright star of the kids menu. Students at Georgetown can depend on their chicken fingers, a food that is consistently there for them. Well — at least on Thursdays.
Chicken Finger Thursday, as it is informally known, has been there for Georgetown’s chicken finger enthusiasts since at least 2000, according to a school spokesman. Ketchup is the most commonly used dining hall condiment, he said, except on Thursdays, when it is honey mustard. The chicken fingers are available at a dining hall station called “Comfort” — on Thursdays, it sees a 35 percent bump in patrons.
Georgetown recently introduced a revamped dining program but kept Chicken Finger Thursday. When the dining hall was undergoing renovations, the most common question from students was whether the tradition would be back.
“I mean, everything is completely brand new from what it was before,” said Adam Ramadan, an alumnus who now works for Georgetown. “And it just makes me really happy that even with all the new and shiny [things], chicken fingers survived and people still love them.”
Does Chicken Finger Thursday say anything about Georgetown University or the college experience? Does it secretly say something about the bonds we form, about the family that we choose for ourselves? Or about nostalgia and the surprising things we hold so dear?
“I think you appreciate the chicken fingers but also just like, the power of food on a college campus,” said Ramadan, who works for Georgetown’s auxiliary business services, which oversees campus dining. “You’re 17 to 22 years old. You’re away from home. You’re living on your own. Food kind of provides people with the ability to sit down and just kind of establish and form that community.”
In 2005, Patrick Monahan mentioned Chicken Finger Thursday in a piece for the Hoya, the school’s student newspaper. “Here’s to Chicken Finger Thursday. Seven fingers, once a week, for 30 weeks a year, for four years,” he wrote. “I’ve had more than 800 of the things and I don’t think I could ever have my fill.” Years later, Monahan posted on Facebook, saying he was going to be discussing Chicken Finger Thursday with a reporter.
That Facebook post prompted comments from people he hadn’t talked to in a decade, Monahan said, one of whom remembered how she would use the chicken fingers in some sort of modified chicken parm recipe. She had committed it to memory, he said, even though years have gone by.
“Clearly, this is a rich vein of a very particular kind of nostalgia,” he said. “It’s such a deep nostalgia that I haven’t thought about it, but it is definitely a real thing. For sure.”
Monahan, a 34-year-old lawyer and comedian in New York, remembers his Chicken Finger Thursday crew, kids from his dorm and other students who met regularly. He remembers how they talked about the new pope once — that happened around the time of a Chicken Finger Thursday. He remembers the soundtrack from the dining hall.
“The whole thing had kind of a vibe that was different from the usual cafeteria,” Monahan said. “It is something that I don’t think about regularly, but I definitely do appreciate a great deal.”
Ramadan, the Georgetown graduate turned employee, said he arrived on campus in August 2010 and was paired with a mentor. Every Thursday, Ramadan said, that mentor would change his Facebook profile picture to a plate of chicken fingers.
Ramadan liked to have a little bit of fun with the sauce, opting for a ketchup, mustard and mayo mix. (“I definitely got some dirty looks from friends as an undergrad,” he said.)
Monahan was a barbecue sauce guy but thinks he later switched to a combo of hot sauce and ranch dressing, initially pioneered by another member of his Chicken Finger Thursday group.
“If ranch is available, I’m looking for ranch,” Monahan said. “So that has definitely shaped my taste.”
Bell, the current Georgetown student, grabs her chicken fingers with a friend, Lauren Quinn. Quinn, also a 20-year-old junior, said that during a particular weekend to welcome students who had been admitted to the school, an organization that performs random acts of kindness was giving out Georgetown postcards. Written on the back, she said, were things that made the campus special.
“Mine says Chicken Finger Thursday,” she said.
Georgetown, a Jesuit school, likes to tout the values associated with that religious order, said John Hess, 18, another student at the university. But it’s nice to have other traditions that students can bond over. Hess, a freshman, said he sticks with the classics when it comes to his chicken fingers. In other words: He’s not interested in messing around with a wild card like ranch.
“Sometimes, in a world that’s so hectic,” Hess said, “you need the basic sauces.”
Chicken Finger Thursday was around when 38-year-old Ryan DuBose was on campus. He remembers students stopping by the dining hall for the big, crispy chicken fingers and the accompanying cauldron of barbecue sauce. People would load up their plates.
“A lot of people only went to the cafeteria one night a week, which was for the chicken fingers,” he said.
When DuBose was a sophomore, he and his roommate ran a mock campaign for student government. It wasn’t really serious but was designed to appeal to single-issue voters.
And that issue was chicken fingers.
“The goal was to get chicken fingers every night,” DuBose said. “And so we entered an official ticket. And it was pretty funny. We got invited to the debate.”
“We got the crowd cheering at one point: ‘Chicken fingers every night. Hell yeah, that’s all right,’ ” he said. “And I think the consensus was that we won the debate.”
They lost the election, but DuBose would run again, this time for real. And he won that year, he said.
“The funny thing is, I can’t remember any of the real issues,” he said. “I think we had a cheesy slogan, like reclaiming Georgetown for students or something like that.”