Saturday, September 12, 2009

We Are Here to Change the World

For a brief time in my life, I was a cafe manager.

In the time since my retirement, the library opened up a little cafe called the Pages, to keep up with the Joneses.

I usually cook for myself these days, so despite its convenient location downstairs from my office, I rarely eat at this cafe anymore. But a couple days ago, I purchased a small "Freedom of Espresso" coffee from there, and the memories of last year's awkward, frequent transactions at the Pages came flooding back to me in that olfactory Proustian way. To its credit, the Pages has some nice vegan chocolate cake, but that's what's good. In all other areas, the eatery needs to shape up. And so, in the absence of a comment box in the vicinity of the Pages, I am using my blog as a forum to voice my suggestions for improvement. As the cafe is staffed largely by iSchool students who have a decent chance of coming across this, I'll give it the old college try. So here they are: complaints, comments, concerns, and suggestions about the Pages cafe.

The main problem is this: There is an interesting Syracuse University contradiction of going green, or attempting to, while at the same time installing a flat-screen TV to run in perpetuity on every interior wall of the institution. This contradiction is apparent at the Pages; in lieu of the traditional blackboard/dry erase menus from your grandmother's corner deli, there is a flat screen TV that rotates through 5 or so "slides" of the cafe's offerings, similar to a public school's TV station that plays nothing but rotating community event ads. For 20 seconds, I can look at the grab & go options -- cereal, cake, soymilk, juice. Then, the screen animates into a distinct, separate menu section: breakfast options. Bagels, bagels with cream cheese, toast, fruit. If I want some juice with my bagel and am not sure I have enough money, I'd better have planned ahead and memorized the price from the previous "slide". The rotating menu doesn't clarify the time period in which these breakfast items are available for purchase. That time period is presumably different from the cafe's hours of operation as a whole, a tidbit of information that could have spared me an awkward moment on one occasion. But we'll get to that story a little later. But to solve the problem, menu subscripts such as "Breakfast is unavailable after 12PM" (I still actually don't know when/if they stop serving it) would be a fantastic addition.

But yes, the only way to get all the menu information is to stare at this flat screen rotating display for several minutes, memorizing the info (the short term memory can only hold 7 +/- 2 items at one time), and dodging "may I help you's" as you stand there and stare like a dope. Yes, we're in the new millennium now and have new technologies such as flat screen television monitors. However, does this mean such monitors must be present in every facet of our lives? I don't think so. Why not simply use a traditional chalkboard or other non-digital signage so that I can scan the entire menu at once to quickly pick my offerings of interest? This method would be much preferred by me, and I can't imagine anyone who would choose the rotating digimenu if given a choice. Update: the Pages has taped some small sheets of paper to their deli case which list some menu offerings. However, these are inconsistent with some offerings listed on the flatscreen TV, and are also blocked from sight by customers as they line up in front of the case.

With the money saved on electricity after removing the rotating digital menu, the Pages may consider using real coffee cups and lids, as opposed to illusions of them. This cafe used to offer normal coffee cups and lids that rivaled the durability and handfeel of the ones you'd find in Dunkin' Donuts and other commercial cafes. However, in the interest of cutting costs or going green, someone has replaced these cups with flimsy ones made from the pages of withdrawn brittle library books from the 19th century. That's why it's called the Pages cafe.

If the literally paper-thin, thinner than cardstock cup doesn't squash under the strength of your closing hand or indirectly cause you to drop your coffee by failing to protect your tender palm from the scalding beverage inside, its evil henchman, the cheap, equally flimsy lid, will aggressively facilitate a coffee spill not once, but twice. Once, when you lift off the lid to add your cream and sugar, then a second time, when you tear back the coffee cup's mouthpiece in preparation for drinking. There is nothing that can be done to prevent this! The coffee lid is a magnet for coffee: Lifting it even a tiny bit, and slow as molasses, being super careful and using the sensitivity and precision of a skilled surgeon will still allow at least two tablespoons of coffee to hop out of the cup like fresh live squid at an authentic Chinese restaurant, spilling onto your clothes, hand, and tabletop. It's not so green to use handfulls of napkins and paper towels to clean up the inevitable mess. Update, 10/06/09: The limited amount of sleep I received last night due to my IST 659 paper and lab being due (see textbook in background of photo, below) essentially forced me to purchase a pages coffee today from the Pages. Their lids are back to normal; they no longer have the flimsy ones with the tabs! Could it be that someone was moved to make the change after reading this? I think someone was moved to remove my blog from the MSLIS joint feed after I was so critical of library facilities, but I hope my writings have made a positive difference, too!

"But Chrissy, why don't you just bring your own mug?" No, I already carry around a water bottle, books, snacks, moleskines, and all sorts of other lucky charms to the point that the zipper on my purse has broken long ago. Do I also need to carry around a reusable mug to leak all over my stuff and bang against my keys just in case I have an impromptu craving for coffee? No way. Uh-uh.

Last but not least, the ordering system is wack. At my fast food restaurant, sometimes there would be 100+ customers an hour. Often, I would have to knock out a line of 15 "guests" all by myself, taking orders, making food, and running the cash register while my on-break compadre watched an SU ball game. This has been the basic reality at all 5 food service establishments I've worked at. Yet the Pages, which is less busy than any of the eateries which employed me, has a very unique ordering system. Forgive me if you've heard this story before.

Once, I wanted a simple bagel. I assumed that, as was the case at the bagel shop I used to manage, customers could simply approach the cashier, state their requests, and wait/pay as their sandwich would be prepared. Another acceptable variation would be to stand in a line behind the deli case or bain marie, tell the designated "short order cook" what to make and any other special instructions, and move with the flow of the line to the cash register, where the prepared lunch would eventually end up.

Basing my bagel-ordering script on my experiences at every other cafeteria-style restaurant I have ever been to, I approached the cashier and made my request. There was not even one other customer in line waiting to be served.

"You have to fill out one of those forms over there," she pointed.

I had to fill out paperwork to get a bagel. The paper-wasting form asked me, among other things, which variety of bagel I would like. This was an open-ended rather than multiple-choice question, despite the absence of bagels within my sight range. Though I'm partial to cinnamon raison, poppy, or sesame, I used the worn out stub of a pencil provided to etch in "plain" as a safe choice; I had already embarrased myself enough.

Only the DMV is an equal hassle. I don't drive, and thanks to the problems of the Pages, I don't make a habit of purchasing food there anymore. The story I just told wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back, though. The straw that broke the camel's back was when I came in starving after my night class, filled out the silly paperwork for my bagel, and stood at the register waiting patiently for it to be prepared. After the rude cashier gave me a judgemental once-over with her eyes, she asked if she could help me.

"Oh, I just ordered a bagel..."

"We don't have bagels now,"
she snotted, doing a little attitude dance. The iSchool students and some others who work at the cafe are completely nice and polite, but whenever I've gotten anything there besides a drink or a grab and go item, employees have been awful!

Neither the menu nor the absent and/or apathetic counter worker who presumably received my written request for a bagel, crumpled it up, and threw it in the garbage can told me this bit of information. Did she mean they were out of bagels, or that it was past the time period when bagels were available for purchase? Her snotty attitude discouraged me from further probing, and I'm still not sure what the truth is.

And, as a reward for reading my piece, I was going to do my labor of love for the week in providing you with the Pages cafe menu, available all in one place and at one time for the first time in the Pages history. I sat in the cafe attempting to transcribe the menu offerings from the flatscreen TV as they whooshed past. However, this task proved to be too difficult and mind-numbing, and I grew weary of the counterpersons' stares. I create item records by day and crosshatch by night, and yet now there's proof that it's possible to bore me.


  1. Chrissy, you're right, Pages is whack. I think the coffee at Pages tastes like cigarettes/burning. I hope it's just because the workers don't know how to properly brew the Freedom of Espresso coffee, but maybe FOE coffee always tastes like that?

  2. Part of why I never drink coffee (also because I don't like it). But yeah, Pages is decent if you're willing to order what you see right in front of you and/or you don't care about what you actually get. Most of the time I wait for there to be a very short line and people I know working or else I go to Starbucks or... well, anywhere. Plus, they really couldn't think of a better name than "Pages"?

    Also, I wonder if the paper cups are just the used order slips...

  3. It took two people to come up with the name Pages.

  4. the two people who came up with the name (via a contest) each got a Mac laptop. waste of resources, i say!

  5. You're just trying to put the trees out of a job. They have to "waste" the paper in order to keep the tree farmers in business. What's your problem? ;)