Cafes compete: Diversions vs. Oppenheimer

“It’s no secret that Diversions is slow,” café regular Sarah Guilian admitted. Employees will tell you the same thing. Customer disappointment is always visible on the complaint board, which frequently reflects students’ frustration with delayed drink delivery.

“One time I left my room at 1:35 to pick up a drink before my 2:00 class, and I ended up being late to class because I was stuck waiting,” an anonymous customer said.

“Complaints have been voiced to me,” Diversions student manager Isabel Chirinos said. “We’ve always been limited when it comes to speed.”

Managers of Oppenheimer Café, on the other hand, say they have never received negative comments regarding drink delivery speed.  Oppenheimer regular Katy Appleby said that she can get in and out of the café with a drink in hand in six minutes or less, even during the end-of-class rush.

So if Diversions management is aware of the problem, and there is a comparable competitor close by, why does the slow service persist?

“Unfortunately our machines are over 12 years old, which creates most of our speed issues due to their inconsistency,” Chirinos said. Depending on how the machines are working, the espresso shots may not “pull” in the correct amount of time, producing either overextracted or underextracted espresso which must be discarded and replaced.

In contrast, Oppenheimer, having been open for only five years, has relatively new equipment, which has proven reliable thus far.

Oppenheimer also employs two full-time “barista coordinators,” one of which is always at the café during business hours. Co-coordinator Julie Seaton, who has been with Oppenheimer since its opening in 200­6 and had a hand in its establishment, brings with her over 15 years of bakery and café experience.

“[Diversions is] student run, which means we don’t have the benefit of having full time staff members,” Chirinos explained, “though it does mean that students can choose to gain the experience of managing and working with Dining and Conference Services.” Although one is always on call, Diversions also does not require a student manager to be in the café during all hours of business.

While Diversions employees are given a designated position for each shift (bar, register or float), Oppenheimer staff members are trained to “float” at all times.

“I’ve found that giving employees specific positions tends to make them less motivated to move where help is needed,” Seaton said. “The way we have it, each employee remains aware of what needs to be done, and does it.”

Oppenheimer staff is also encouraged to “engage the line” by getting drinks and food working for customers even before they reach the register to order.

“A lot of times we can have a drink ready for someone as soon as they finish paying,” Oppenheimer employee Charlie Cronin said.

Diversions managers are working on improving their speed, and they hope their new employee training program will help. Starting this spring, the café closed early during the first week of the term to allow the new baristas to gain experience behind the bar without customer pressure.

After three of these training shifts, employees spend time shadowing experienced baristas to get a feel for the flow of service.

“We want to make sure our employees feel as confident as possible when they step behind the bar,” Brennan said.

But if a walk to Oppenheimer could give customers a drink in the same amount of time as a wait at Diversions, why do they keep coming back? Location is definitely a factor.

“Diversions is much more convenient for me because of where I live and where my classes are,” Guilian said.

Diversions is also open nearly twice as many hours per week as Oppenheimer, and they also offer a much larger menu, which includes smoothies and blended drinks that Oppenheimer lacks.

In the end though, it may just come down to what customers prefer.

“Diversions has a more social atmosphere than Oppenheimer,” senior Kaitlin Brown said. “It’s easier to spend long periods of time there doing homework or hanging out with friends.”