Dining Services to close Lu’s Café, suspend weekend operation in Buckley, late night at Putnam

Putnam Dining Hall on August 30, 2016. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

Putnam Dining Hall on August 30, 2016. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

Lu’s Café will serve it’s last cup of coffee in less than two weeks. Located in the basement of Family Studies, the café will permanently close due to dining services’ need to reduce operating costs, according to the Executive Director of Dining Services Dennis Pierce.

In addition, there will be no Saturday or Sunday hours at Buckley Dining Hall and no late night hours at Putnam Refectory starting this fall, Pierce said.

“Based on a recent review, we will be making changes to the operating hours of three Dining Services locations on the Storrs campus next semester. These changes will help us ensure we are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Pierce wrote in an announcement to UConn faculty, students and staff.

The changes come in light of levels of customer demand, in that each dining operation, whether it be a café or a dining unit, should be “self-supporting,” or able to sustain enough customer demand to justify its hours of operation. The level of demand for the three units was found to be too low to be viable, Pierce said.

The space in the Family Studies Building currently occupied by Lu’s Café will remain a study area. The idea is to turn the area into a self-serve facility, with vending machines serving the traditional café-style salads and sandwiches, an automated coffee machine and a microwave, Pierce said.

“Lu’s since it has begun hasn’t broken even,” Pierce said. “Because it is tucked in there, limited seating and people don’t know where it is.”

The sign, of current hours, for Lu's Cafe on April 25, 2017. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

The sign, of current hours, for Lu's Cafe on April 25, 2017. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

When deciding about Putnam, the department looked at the number of labor hours in comparison with the number of students swiping in. The standard for swipes per labor hours is eight but the statistics were registering in the low fives. While late nights are typically very popular, McMahon will be able to handle providing for those students who frequent Putnam for late night, Pierce said.

“You hope that Hilltop (residents) would be eating at Putnam, but the participation rates are not as high as expected,” Pierce said.

For Buckley, weekend number counts were consistently low. According to dining services data, many residents of Buckley and Shippee head down the road to South and Whitney more frequently than they would have expected.

“This past year we were looking at our financials; specifically, where we are with our budgets,” Pierce said. “(With) what we are seeing, several things are impacting us.”

Dining Services operates independently of the university, gaining revenue from the sale of meal plans, catering services as well as café business and food truck sales. The department is responsible for repairing and replacing equipment, paying their employees (including benefits) and has a large overhead cost, Pierce said.

“When we start looking at operations specifically – are they a viable entity? What can we do? What can we change?” Pierce said. “These (changes for the fall) are opportunities to create savings.”

The last time Dining Services made changes this significant was 10 to 15 years ago, and the current changes come after six months of deliberation. In the near future, students should not expect any other changes, Pierce said.

“This isn’t easy for us,” Pierce said. “We spend a lot of time putting paper to pencil and trying to make it work without doing these things.”

The effects of these changes comes down to inconvenience, Pierce said. The closures might pose an imposition to travel to a different dining hall, and force a change in the usual dining culture at UConn, but the numbers showed a lesser use of the three units affected.

“I feel like people would be surprised by (the change). I always see a good amount of people at (Putnam) late night, especially because they added NexGen so there are more students near Putnam,” Fourth-semester cognitive science and speech and language hearing sciences major Marina Lajoie, who lives in Garrigus Suites and typically dines at Putnam Refectory, said. “But McMahon isn’t too far, it’s just less convenient.”

“The first semester (of new changes) you hear a lot of pushback. After that, it dies down and students get accustomed to the routine,” Pierce said.

With seniors moving off campus and incoming freshmen having not yet experienced any of the current dining operation hours, the target for communication in these changes are the rising sophomores and juniors. Eventually the changes will become the norm, Pierce said.

“I’ll be less affected by it next year because I’ll be in an apartment, but I liked Putnam late night,” Lajoie said.

Lajoie said she often goes to late night because it’s a good way to get together with friends, and found that the food was better than during regular dinner hours.

“What’s hard for students to understand is that we (Dining Services) are a business; we have to operate like a business.” Pierce said.

Lu’s Café “should not significantly impact (Dining Services’) customers” because of the close proximity of Bookworms Café and Wilbur’s Café. Whitney and South dining halls will serve as alternatives to Buckley on the weekends and Whitney, McMahon and Northwest dining halls will remain open for late night, serving as an alternative to Putnam Refectory, according to the public announcement.


Molly Stadnicki is the associate news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at molly.stadnicki@uconn.edu.