I’m grateful for the opportunity to write a response to last week’s editorial on the recently reopened Log (“Log leaves much to be desired: Examining student accessibility of revamped Log,” Nov. 11, 2015). I’ve worked in higher education since 1988, during which time I’ve developed and administered dozens of retail dining and board operations. Before that, I spent many years in the restaurant business. From all of this experience, I’ve learned that it’s a surprisingly organic process for new locations like the Log to figure out what they’re going to become and how they’ll be used. Every venue has a unique character that takes time to develop.
The Log is an extreme example of this phenomenon because we’ve been asked to pursue a complex mix of objectives that don’t normally coexist in a single operation. A complicated enterprise like this can take a year or more to figure how it fits into student life, campus life and Spring Street life. All the more reason, then, that it needs time to mature and all the more curious that the Record decided to write such a decisive editorial after less than one week of operation.
Some background: In March 2013, President Adam Falk asked me to undertake a study of the Log, in order to gain a detailed understanding of what it would take for the Log – as a building and as a student life program – to become an important element of present-day campus life. Over the course of the next several weeks, I held multiple meetings with student and staff focus groups and converted those conversations into a report that consisted of guiding principles and recommendations. I continued to test these principles and recommendations with students and in multiple discussions with College Council, the Committees on Undergraduate Life and Priorities and Resources and others. We created a Log project committee to advise the architects and project managers that was comprised of students, staff, faculty and alumni.
Here are the core student recommendations. The Log should be a place to build community among all four years of students with no weekend exclusion of students under 21 years of age. To create regularized usage, it should have consistent, predictable hours of operation and reliable programming, mostly in the evening. It should be a place where drinkers of legal age can drink in a responsible, relaxed environment, one in which non-drinkers are equally comfortable sharing the space. The Log should have an interesting, shareable menu with ample choices of fun non-alcoholic beverages, including “artisanal milkshakes.” When we specifically pointed out that the ’82 Grill was intended to provide precisely this kind of environment, students said that, while they liked ’82, it was part of their daily experience, and they were seeking a venue that felt unique, special and not part of everyday campus life. Our student consultants were very clear that the Log should be not part of the dining program.
Menus are typically the most dynamic elements of this kind of operation, evolving regularly over time. Last week’s editorial’s comment about $30 entrees is misleading. The most expensive item is $29, but it’s a “family-style meal” intended for two or three diners. If two students split that entrée, it’s $10.15 apiece after the 30 percent discount is applied. We continue to work closely with a student advisory committee that has made, and will continue to make, significant contributions to menu design and operational review. The professional team from Hops & Vines meets with us on a regular basis and is remarkably responsive.
If the Log isn’t going to be part of our dining program, then maintaining a successful operation with high quality food and service requires a full-time professional operator to manage it. Ensuring compliance with all aspects of liquor license regulations and the many associated risk management issues is a critically important, core element of this professional operation. The operator must hire full-time staff and run the operation like an actual business with predictable hours. We have rules constraining private events because no operator could possibly take on a complicated enterprise like the Log if it can be shut down whenever someone wants to hold an exclusive event. Customers need to know when a business will be open, and hiring a good staff requires establishing regular work hours.
I’ve heard from numerous students, staff, community members and the Log management team that students are regularly using it as hang-out and study space and that they’ve been encouraged to do so. Yes, it’s definitely busy during the dinner hour. So are all the Paresky dining spots, Mission and Driscoll whenever I drop by during meal periods.
Right now, at the ripe old age of two weeks, the Log wants to be a lot of things at once, not all of which can co-exist simultaneously during every hour that it’s open. It’s currently doing precisely what all of our student research told us it should do, but it needs time to cultivate its identity and the social space it’s going to occupy among the many student and campus life venues on and off campus. It will certainly take more than a week or two.
Steve Klass is the vice president for campus life at the College.