Cash Woes at Alice’s Cafe

Alice’s Café manager Lorraine Trimboli said that she would agree to allow electronic payments, without a price increase, but only for clients paying $5 or more.


alice's 2By Dariela Sosa

At 1:55pm, I can hear my stomach growling. Professor Valenti’s class starts in five minutes, and she does not like people to be late. I run to Alice’s Café, SIPA’s only eatery, and suddenly realize that —again— I have no cash.  The only ATM is located two floors away, and not having a Citibank card means the machine will charge me $2 for the withdrawal.

Is this café-related suffering common in the SIPA community, or just the isolated experience of a girl with an ATM aversion? Last week, the TMP team conducted an electronic survey to find out if paying only in cash at Alice’s Café was affecting the customer experience at SIPA. The answer appears to be yes.

The three-question survey elicited 71 responses from SIPA community members. The first question asked students if they minded relying on cash to purchase food from Alice’s Café. 74 percent answered “yes, I want to pay by debit/credit card also”, while 26 percent stated “I had not realized/I don’t care”. In response to a follow-up question, 78 percent pointed out that they have gone somewhere outside SIPA to buy food because they don’t have cash.

However, students raised concerns that prices could rise if they were suddenly able to pay by credit card. This was the most common argument against implementing a credit/debit card machine at the Cafe. Knowing this, TMP decided to compare Alice’s with other cafeterias at Columbia that accept credit cards.

The research confirmed that 10 of 12 Cafeterias in Columbia allow payments by debit/credit card. Only Alice’s Café (International Affairs Building) and Brownie’s Café (Avery) are cash-only.  Interestingly, when comparing the price of three common items (a small regular coffee, a croissant and the simplest sandwich) at every Columbia cafeteria, Alice’s  is one of the cheapest. For example, we confirmed that the cheapest coffee on campus is found at Alice’s Café*. For those money saving maniacs (such as yours truly), the cheapest sandwich can be found at Lenfest (Law School), and the cheapest croissant at Grace Dodge (Teacher’s College).

The survey also asked SIPA students if they would be willing to pay an additional $0.25-$1,00 per item to use credit/debit cards. 69 percent said no and only 31 percent answered yes.

What was the response from Alice’s Café?

After reviewing the poll results, Alice’s Café manager Lorraine Trimboli said that she would agree to allow electronic payments, without a price increase, but only for clients paying $5 or more.

This proposed solution of allowing electronic payments with a $5 consumption minimum could facilitate consumption and would not hurt those who want to pay by cash because prices wouldn’t be raised. Until this is implemented, if you ever run out of cash, you could always owe to Alice’s Café vendors Nano and Blanca (but please, don’t abuse of their trust!)

Assistant Dean Patrick Bohan invites the student body to come to the Town Halls meetings where these kind of issues are addressed.  Lorraine Trimboli, Alice’s Café manager read all individual survey comments and invites you to write to for any additional concerns.

Thanks to SIPASA for its kind sharing of previous research. If you want to follow up this matter you can write to

* If you bring your own mug at Alice’s, it’s 25 cents off. In Subconscious small regular coffee is 1$; but it’s not a university cafeteria.

Dariela Sosa is a first-year Master of Public Administration student. This article appeared in the March 12 edition of the the Morningside Post in print. Follow her on twitter: @darielasosa


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