The beginning of March came with the long-awaited reopening of student-run Paces Cafe. On March 12, the cafe resumed operating at full capacity after undergoing an audit, which was resolved in late February.
According to a previously published Phoenix article, Paces was under audit because of its old bookkeeping practices and for accepting cash as a form of payment. The cafe reopened as a newly authorized OneCard vendor, a development that has been a longstanding desire of students.
Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano explained why Paces was added to the OneCard program.
“After the audit was completed it was determined that solely accepting OneCard would be best for the program as it would make access and tracking the simplest for all involved to the program,” he said.
Raffaella Luzi Stoutland ’17, the Head Director of Paces, explained what spurred the decision to become a OneCard vendor.
“The biggest challenge was just competing with all the other businesses that were put on the OneCard. While before we were competing almost on the same level with them because we were both taking cash, once they could accept Points we were pretty far behind in terms of marketability. We weren’t very appealing to people who could use their Points elsewhere,” she said.
The move to OneCard, as observed by barista Arka Rao ’18, has proved to be successful in attracting customers. Rao, who has worked at Paces every spring since his freshman year, noticed a significant change.
“The OneCard has definitely brought more traffic as a whole. My sophomore year as a barista was certainly less busy than now. The first day I worked this semester, March 12, was somewhat busy but manageable since there’s two baristas during each shift now, and the options were restricted to only $10 deals. However, my second day, March 20, was super busy for almost the entire time. The other Monday night barista and I made more drinks combined than I’ve personally ever seen in one night,” he said.
Paces’ status as a OneCard vendor is tied to the fact that they no longer accept cash or credit cards for purchases. Coschignano briefly mentioned the change made in regards to this restriction.
“Transactions as a part of Paces opening are set to a one-time dollar limit per transaction, and that limit may change based on activity and special events,” he said.
This alludes specifically to the temporary practice of capping transactions at $10 upon the initial reopening. The cap was comparable to Essie’s Late Nite Snack option, where a meal swipe can be used in transaction up to a maximum of $7. However, Paces’s system was organized such that any transaction made would be an automatic deduction of $10 off of one’s Swat Points, and that unlike Essie’s, meals cannot be used nor could the transaction cap be changed.
“Basically, you can only swipe $10 at a time. That’s the biggest change for our consumers. We’ve set up combos that people can choose from in order to reach the $10 value. It’s the same menu, it’s now just that the way you buy from it is a bit more restricted,” Stoutland explained.
With all of the positivity surrounding Paces’ move to OneCard, there are challenges that may befall the cafe. For example, since Paces exclusively accepts Swat points, the cafe runs the risk of being inaccessible to students when they start running low on Points during the latter part of a semester. Stoutland does acknowledge the possibility that issues like this that may arise.
“One challenge that we thought about what people off campus who don’t have a meal plan: could they come to Paces at all? It’s not in the books yet to accept cash at all at the moment, but you can always put cash onto your OneCard. Just like you could before, you can load your card with money. The challenge would be to remind people that that is an option if they really want to come to Paces and are out of points,” she said.
The $10 price cap, too, is an issue of salience as Stoutland explained.
“The price cap is also a challenge, both for us and for customers, since people don’t always want to spend $10. For us, it does skew consumer trends a little bit because we don’t necessarily know what people want to order; we only know what they would order if they had to spend $10. The challenges can be overcome though,” she said.
However, the price cap, though it presented challenges, was the most realistic for the cafe to cover their costs.
“Our main idea was to try to cover food costs as best as possible while giving the highest range of options with the cap. Five dollars or $10 were our two options; with $5, it doesn’t quite cover the cost of sandwiches in the real world. While we used to charge $5 in cash, once we got the OneCard it was important for us to actually charge what the food item was worth, and it’s closer to $6 or $7 … We really wanted something based on our milkshake price that could either be singles or doubles. With $10, you could really get items that evened out pretty well … it was our first try, so it’s not perfect,” Stoutland explained.
The cap was not long-lived. Paces was open for eight days with the $10 cap before the announcement was made that all items on the menu were now $5. Rao observed that students seemed to be reacting positively to the switch.
“The change to $5 options (and the free drink refills) seems to be a popular decision and a good incentive for sure. I think it’s a good change and a sign of the hard work our managers have been putting in, and these decisions have been marked with successes already,” he said.
Another question was raised concerning the type of Points to be used at Paces. The cafe only accepts Swat Points, meaning that it has the technical designation as an off-campus vendor. Stoutland explained that this was the best option for the direction of Paces.
“The thing with this is that the Ville [Swat] Points allows us to be autonomous. Points on campus are for dining services because of the way they’re processed and because of the fund they’re coming out of. Because we don’t want to be dining services, we want to be something independent, and we want to remain student run and student involved, we’re on the Ville [Swat] Points,” she said.
The future of Paces looks bright, as student workers maintain positive outlooks on the new changes. Henry Han ’20, one of Paces’ two chefs, spoke about his expectations for future service.
“Since switching to the OneCard, we have had a drastic increase in customers. As we advertise more and as all the workers become acclimated to the new system, I expect that our food will be served faster and will be of even higher quality. I also think our customer base will grow a lot more,” he said.
Rao, too, believes that Pace’s new format does good for the business and maintains that challenges can be overcome.
“I definitely think the current format of Paces has a lot of advantages. Having a second barista (shoutout Sergio) really helps us be efficient with drinks, which are turning out to be some of the most popular items on the menu. The most salient challenge that I can imagine would be dealing with the increased traffic, but I believe it’s in our capacity to handle more customers than before. I’m really happy for the team, especially the managers, since Paces is already super popular and I hope it stays that way. It’s great to see the results of everyone’s hard work so soon. I’m looking forward to working the rest of the semester!” he said.
From a management perspective, Stoutland spoke brightly about Paces and what it means to those who frequent it.
“Students are really excited to be working at Paces, to have Paces again as an option. I think it’s mostly been morally really great, so even if management is still working out kinks on how to stay open and what to do about that, at least we have it [Paces],” she said.
With the remaining six weeks in the semester, Paces will learn how to navigate its new OneCard transaction policy, as well as the changes made to the menu and format of service. Although it seems that the new additions have been received smoothly, it remains to be seen if the cafe will maintain the increased levels of traffic it has been experiencing.