Tower Café reopened on Oct. 6 with a limited menu for the first time since it closed due to the pandemic in March 2020.
Situated within Tisch Library, the cafe restarted operations this year as students returned to one of the most popular study spots on campus — a change from last year, when students had limited access to the library. This surge toward pre-pandemic levels drove the decision to reopen Tower Café, according to Patti Klos, director of Tufts Dining and Business Services.
“[Because of] where it's embedded inside the library, our hours of service, the nature of the audience is, I wouldn't say unique, but reflective of where it's situated,” Klos said. “And so last year during COVID … the library needed to limit the number of people that could be there and how many could be in close proximity to one another. And so the library was not used the way it is now.”
At this point, Tower Café’s menu only includes drinks, lacking the cafe’s past offerings of muffins, sandwiches and various snacks.
Due to its location, decisions around the operations of Tower Café are made by Tufts Dining in conjunction with library leadership. Klos explained that the change to the beverage menu was a means of expanding services while keeping the community safe. With indoor mask requirements still in place, Klos said that with drinks, it is easier for people to keep their mask on most of the time, pulling it down every once in a while to sip but promptly pulling it back up.
“[With a beverage], you're creating less risk for yourself and the people around you,” Klos said. “But with food, you really need [your mask] off longer.”
In addition to the modified menu, students must order online through the dining app or at a kiosk located in the library, down the hall from the cafe.
Dan Gizzo, a student employee at Tower Café, cited these changes as part of the reason business has been slow at the cafe.
“I think that the fact that there's no food [means] people aren't really aware that it's open … since it opened kind of randomly in October, not September," Gizzo, a senior, said. "Also, you can't pay straight up anymore, you have to order on the app or a kiosk down the hall, so that makes it a little more difficult. For those reasons, we haven't been getting much traffic.”
While the cafe has been quiet so far, future changes may ramp up business. Currently Tower Café is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, but Klos suggested that these hours may change.
“The library leadership shares with us [its] buildings census: What time of day are people there and in what volume,” Klos said. “So we're considering shifting the hours, opening a little later because we're opening at eight in the morning and there really isn't demand, but we could shift our service hours.”
Klos said that hours may be shifted to 11 a.m.-7 p.m. to better align with student traffic in Tisch. As more student workers join the staff at Tower Café, Tufts Dining and the library leadership may look at keeping the cafe open over the weekend as well.
Klos said COVID-19 case numbers are being monitored and if the risk level becomes low enough, Tufts Dining will discuss bringing back food to Tower Café. She acknowledged that numbers are relatively low, but with the volatility of case numbers, Tufts Dining isn’t currently considering changes.
“We're being a little guarded — not rushing into anything on our end,” Klos said.
Klos explained that all employees are provided with a two weeks’ notice before significant changes like alterations to hours are put into place to allow them time to modify their schedule as needed. If food returns to Tower Café’s menu, the cafe will also need time to prepare and order in advance.
Some students are not worried about when food will be returning. Junior AJ Arbuckle is driven to the cafe by the atmosphere rather than the menu.
“I've kind of discovered the spot somewhat recently,” Arbuckle said. “I just like it because it has comfortable seats and lots of light.”
Klos also appreciates the ambiance of the cafe and was happy to see students' reactions to the cafe's reopening.
“I think there's some degree of excitement, which we like," she said. "It's a lovely space. It's like a little oasis.”