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.
For the first time in recent memory, Paces café is turning a profit.
At the beginning of last fall, Paces Café underwent a management change and began working to improve their product. That means more creative menu options and a fresh coat of paint as well as the elimination of table service and a bigger focus on café “takeovers.” From a numbers perspective, the changes have been more than effective, with more seats filled on a daily basis and revenue at record highs.
“On average we can expect about 75 customers a night,” Office Manager Peter Daniels ‘15 said. On their busiest nights, Sundays and Wednesdays, they see even more.
“The new changes have really made it more accommodating to different types of people,” Tayler Tucker ’13, a regular Paces customer who worked as Paces Event Coordinator in the fall. “It’s a place where you can work without being bogged down by the idea of working like in McCabe,” Tucker said.
The new menu includes sandwiches with brie, fresh pesto, and arugula and drinks like London Fog and Honeybush Vanilla tea. Baked specials which change on a regular basis. To make the menu more flexible to student demand and suggestions, printouts have been scrapped for a blackboard hanging behind the main counter.
The way food is ordered has been completely changed as well in order to decrease wait times. Employees no longer wait tables, and students make their orders at the counter instead. Kitchen organizational structure has been streamlined too in the name of efficiency, with Kitchen Director Treasure Tinsley ’15 and the rest of the Paces staff also carefully calculating what items will and won’t be needed in a given night. An emphasis is placed on careful accounting and budgeting for all ingredients.
According to Daniels, Paces has exceeded its annual operating budget by as much as $17,000 in the last few years. That budget is provided by the Student Activities Office, and this year’s profit reflects added revenue, not an increased subsidy, said Daniels. Paces’ revenue was up $400 last fall over last spring.
However, Paces wants to be cost-effective, not profitable–after all, it’s a student activity, albeit one with paid positions–so it has used its profitability as an opportunity to reduce the price of menu items going forward.
Paces has also increased the number of café takeovers during the past semester, with groups like Earthlust, O.A.S.I.S. Spoken Word, and SASS hosting. Tinsley said it is a goal of the café to reach out to more and more campus groups and students about hosting events. “I’d like about two or more takeovers a week,” she said. These takeover events range from special food items available on the menu to Spoken Word poetry to live student performances among other events.
Tucker found that the events help attract more diverse customers than who Paces has traditionally appealed to. Victoria Stitt ’16, another regular Paces customer, also shared similar views. While O.A.S.I.S. is her favorite, she found that that the wide range of events show more students the appeal of Paces café. “Events let Paces be a place where everyone can feel comfortable doing their own thing,” she said.
Some of last semester’s additions, like the ten-midnight call-in service and student artwork displays, are still going strong. Paces has also retained its smoke-free policy, which started in the fall.
Students also found areas where problems remain. “There is always room for improving outreach,” Stitt suggested. She felt students not in the hard sciences are overrepresented among the café’s attendees.
“Because of the added professionalism,” Tucker said, “staff positions attract a less diverse population.” While she likes that the café as a model of how a student-run experiment can succeed and give students valuable work experience while attracting a broad range of customers, she said she is skeptical that the trade-off between staff diversity and customer diversity is a necessary one.
“Paces in the past was more of a place to escape the daily grind of Swarthmore, whether it was hanging out there or even working there.
Good or bad, the Paces changes are far from over, however. Tinsley, for one, said she would like to see more changes done in Paces before she graduates in two years.
Photo by Andrew Karas/The Daily Gazette
Cover photo courtesy of Paces Cafe