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Post-Its in the new Tiger Tea Room

The Firestone Library began a new, temporary pilot program called Tiger Tea Room on March 27 till early June to collect feedback on whether to incorporate a permanent, on-site café in first-floor renovation plans for the library.

The tea room offers a conversation-friendly space and easily accessible food and beverages for patrons to enjoy conversation and a quick bite within the library. During the tea room’s 10 week trial, the tea room staff will track visitor data and feedback from patrons. If the data reveals a sufficiently high demand, the Firestone renovations committee will consider incorporating an on-site cafe to the first-floor renovations scheduled to finish by the end of 2018, according to Jeffrey Rowlands, director of Library Finance and Administration.

The first-floor DeLong Room has been converted to house the tea room, which will run until early June. Rowlands referred to the Tiger Tea Room as a “flexible space that is conversation-friendly” where students, faculty, and staff can all engage one another. He mentioned how other spaces in Firestone, such as the trustee room, are self-policed to maintain a studious atmosphere.

Patrons have eagerly welcomed the cafe and expressed hope that it will become a permanent feature of the library.

“We want to keep students here [in the library]. If you’re here, you’re here,” said Cristian Vasquez, director of Retail and Catering Operations. He noted that the stream of customers has been steady since the café’s Monday opening, and appeared optimistic that the café is “going to work out.” After the 10 weeks, the café planners will decide whether to convert the pilot into a full-fledged café with longer hours and a more established location.

The pilot tea room has integrated itself quietly into the DeLong Room. On the right side of the entrance lies a makeshift café counter offering hot coffee and tea, pre-packed goods, and fresh fruit. Natural light from the back windows, which overlook Nassau Street, fills the room. Subtle changes mark the room: tables, chairs, and shelves have been rearranged to allow for more open space and seating. Metal standing tables now stand at the center, providing convenient spots for a quick bite. Patrons, many of them students, lounge around working on their laptops, reading, chatting among themselves, and enjoying the view outside. People continually peek in to look at the newly renovated room.

Rowlands referred to the Tiger Tea Room as a “flexible space that is conversation-friendly” where students, faculty, and staff can all engage one another. He mentioned how other spaces in Firestone, such as the trustee room, are self-policed to maintain a studious atmosphere.

The tea room is a conscious alternative.“We wanted an area where people are not going to get shushed and can get a cup of coffee without having to go out in the snow or rain,” Rowlands said.

Rowlands emphasized that the pilot project was “purposefully called a tea room to distinguish it from all the cafes on campus.” The tea room is not meant to “reproduce” the other cafes, but serve as a temporary pilot program to assess community desire. It features a limited menu and is only open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., although Rowlands added that the hours may be extended for a few weeks depending on how heavy traffic is.

Reactions from community members have been overwhelmingly positive, affirming that the café fulfills a longstanding need on campus.

“I definitely really like it right now,” Maria Perales ’18 said. “It’s so accessible and convenient to have food inside. Just a place for more chill conversation and to take a break from hard-core studying.” Perales noted that she had avoided coming to Firestone or had sometimes snuck food in because she was unable to eat in the library.

“Coffee near working areas is a must-have,” Sina Wachenfeld, the spouse of a postdoctoral student, said. “I hope this turns into a regular thing.” Beforehand, Wachenfeld would often go to Starbucks or Small World for coffee, but the coffee there was more expensive and would be cold by the time she returned to Firestone. Patrons can buy a small coffee for $2.15 and a cappuccino or latte for $3.50 at the Tiger Tea Room.

“Sometimes you work upstairs and want a break, but not leave your study place to go all the way to Frist or somewhere. So it’s really good to have [the café] nearby,” she said.

Post-It notes on the wall boards overflowed with positive and energetic feedback. “Finally!” “Much needed!” “Why wasn’t this here before?” Many commenters asked for the café hours to be extended to earlier in the morning and later at night. These suggestions, including requests for more comfortable and spacious seating, will likely be satisfied if the pilot café turns into an established, full capacity café after June.

The Post-It notes are one form of data that the planners are collecting to decide their long-term renovation plans The dining service workers staffing the tea room also take note of times of sales, peak and low traffic hours, where people sit, what furniture they use, and other details. Whether students actually use the tea room on a regular basis is the crux of the decision-making process. Rowland explained. “Whether we build [the café] or not is completely dependent on whether students use it,” he said.

“If this works out, the plan is probably to extend the hours,” Vasquez said. “We will have our baked products and more beverage variety.”

This article has been updated with additional information and corrected to explain the nature of the University's pilot "tea room."

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