Just in time for the cold fall weather, the Ronj has opened for the new school year. Adam Rintell ‘17, one of the Ronj’s three student managers, shared how Bates’ coffeehouse has been faring financially, as well as what students can expect this year.
After a long discussion with the administration last fall, the Ronj began taking credit cards. Although there was some hesitation around the processing fee of the credit card company, the switch paid off in the end. “Two years ago we brought in about $8,000 in revenue and this past year we brought in about $16,000,” Adam said. “So we almost cleanly doubled our revenue intake, and the only material change we made was being able to accept debit and credit cards. My thesis is that a lot of people that otherwise were counting out the nickels in their wallets to buy chai and walking away from the register were now buying stuff.”
The increase in revenue is always welcome, but is not what keeps the Ronj in business. The college gives the business a certain amount of money as an expenses budget, and then pays students out of a separate account. Throughout the year, the Ronj aims to make enough to pay back the expenses budget. When the student wages are taken into account, they actually operate at a loss. So what purpose does the Ronj serve on campus? “The point is not to make as much money as possible, the point is to create a community space on campus,” says Adam. The managers also try to orient their staff around the community. “This year we had a huge applicant pool, which was really exciting and really hard. A lot of people assume we hire on barista experience, but that’s not necessarily true…We want a staff that will work well together, while also being thoughtful members of the Bates community, who want to give back and contribute something to Bates.”
One of the most effective ways of actually bringing the community into this space is through programming. Although the Ronj already served as a place for programming and group meetings last year, successful programming has been difficult. “Sometimes we’d have a really cool performer and we’d have ten or fifteen people show up. They’d be thrilled, but it’s not really that many people. We’d talk to people, even members of the staff, and they’d have no idea because it’s not really well-publicized.” This year publicity will be more organized events will be seen on Bates Today and social media.
Unlike VCS, which generally hosts outside performers, it makes more sense, both financial and in terms of turnout, for the Ronj to host Bates artists. Students are more likely to show up for an artist they know than more expensive outside groups. There may also be more movie-night programming.
Beyond programming, the food also brings students in, especially on Wednesday’s dollar Chai night. This year might even see some new items added to the menu. The staff is working to find the right brand of ice cream to make affogatos, a combination of ice cream with espresso poured over the top. Another possible idea in the works is a drink pre-order system somewhat like Den delivery, which would allow students to pre-order drinks from their room and then walk over to find the drink already made and pre-paid. Of course, this system wouldn’t have the convenience of delivery and is not yet a set plan. Will these new changes increase growth? “We’re not setting revenue targets,” says Adam. “We’re honestly more interested in how many more people can come to the Ronj for the first time.”