The Sink, losing business due to COVID-19 restrictions, has plans to draw back customers

A student orders a beverage from The Sink at the Mayer Campus Center. Aaron Apostadero / The Tufts Daily

The Sink has seen a reduction in business due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in place on campus, causing the student-run business to seek creative solutions to make up for lost revenue. 

“I think for so many The Sink has always been such a central hub of student life on campus and a meeting place for so many people,” Malaika Gabra, a manager at The Sink, said. “Before the COVID era, The Sink was always just packed.”

Gabra, a senior, explained how COVID-19 has changed The Sink’s role on campus. 

“One of the hardest parts of managing The Sink during COVID has been sort of reimagining this space that has been so central and so busy and such a hub for so long, into a place where it’s more of a transient area,” Gabra said. “People can still come and see their friends but can’t hang out in hordes of 40 for six hours.”

Manager Sarah Minster explained the ways these changes are affecting their business. 

“A huge challenge that we’re facing is just a lack of business, just because COVID has made … campus a little bit more empty and especially upperclassmen who would normally come to campus are just not coming as much,” Minster, a senior, said.

The Mayer Campus Center no longer hosts events or allows large gatherings of people due to COVID-19 restrictions, which has cost The Sink an important customer base.

“There were people who sold clothes and records, and clubs would come and have tables for various events or initiatives … Those people like coffee, so they would all come in,” manager Haley Braner said. “Not having them around is kind of a bummer this year.” 

Braner, a junior, said that another dramatic change has been the absence of on-campus tours. 

“We miss a lot of the parents and prospective students, and that was always fun because prospective students could ask questions and things,” she said. 

Minster also feels as though the daily flow of traffic has changed. If a student has a morning class, they are less likely to stop by The Sink on their way with classes taking place virtually. 

“The rhythm is a little different,” she said. 

The Sink, although found in the Campus Center, is not a part of Tufts Dining. This prevents the cafe from being a part of Tufts’ mobile ordering app. 

“[It] has been pretty difficult to justify students coming to The Sink and using their own money or JumboCash when they could just use money that’s part of their dining plan,” Minster said. 

To make up for the lost customer base, The Sink’s managers piloted a Valentine’s Day voucher. According to Assistant Director for Campus Life Chelsea Jordan, the voucher program allowed anyone to purchase food or drinks for their loved ones. 

“That was a really great way for them to get some additional traffic to The Sink, mostly because not everybody has JumboCash to use at The Sink, and same with cash,” Jordan said.

Gabra commented on the future of the voucher program.

“I think we plan to not just leave that for Valentine’s Day, but sort of open it up to be a situation where you can continue to purchase gift cards for friends, but also allow parents and loved ones and people outside of the Tufts community to purchase gift cards for students or for themselves,” Gabra said.

In another effort to make up for lost business, The Sink plans to start selling merchandise by early March. According to Gabra, there has been demand for apparel in the past, but it was only available to The Sink employees. Soon it will be available for customers to purchase as well. 

The managers have also looked into creating a mobile ordering option, similar to the Tufts Dining mobile app. However, that will remain a long term project. 

“We’re really trying to explore a lot of options there, it just seems that there’s some structural barriers in place,” Minster said. “There are certain official channels that we have to go through and there are certain security measures that we have to take to maintain the privacy of our customers and ensure that everything is secure with payments.”

“It seems like [the Tufts Dining mobile app] just popped up overnight but that was a very long term project for them, so we can expect the same several year timeline … to really work on that and get the resources ready,” she said.

One of the first steps in a mobile ordering option would include accepting credit cards as a form of payment, something the managers are exploring. Currently, The Sink only accepts cash and JumboCash. 

“We’re trying to invest our time and energy in both projects that fix immediate issues, but also ones that will be sustainable and will be used at The Sink post-COVID,” Gabra said.

According to Jordan, the Office for Campus Life is doing what they can to help The Sink, but she also acknowledged the important role that The Sink’s managers and employees are playing in that development of solutions.

“They are taking incredible initiative to really brainstorm a lot of that themselves,” Jordan said.